Brandon Bussolini

The underground


Compilations often serve two purposes, sometimes at the same time: they can be brief introductions or exhaustive overviews. The San Francisco label Dark Entries just released BART: Bay Area Retrograde, a collection of local, underground music from the early ’80s, which feels like a bit of both. Representing local bands — from Danville to Palo Alto, Berkeley, and SF — that gravitated toward an alienated, synth-driven sound, it’s a meticulously curated snapshot that feels complete in itself, but is also a primer for the minimal synth revival. With many songs verging on 30 years old, label owner and DJ Josh Cheon and co-curator Phil Maier have compiled tracks that were un- or little- known in their own time but now sound very much of the moment.

There are many names for the variety of styles represented across BART‘s 11 songs — synthpop, post-punk, and cold, minimal, or new wave are only the most common. But nearly half of the songs are complete obscurities — four are previously unreleased and two appeared only in small, self-released editions — and the compilation as a whole is difficult to pin down. These are artifacts from a lost era, our local contribution to an international group of artists who created music that was bound to be marginal, faced with intense rock chauvinism and Reagan-era optimism.

BART kicks off with three songs (Nominal State’s “Middle Class,” Batang Frisco’s “Power,” and Necropolis of Love’s “Talk”) that sound like a blueprint for the current renaissance of icy analog futurism by groups like Xeno and Oaklander, Staccato du Mal, and The Soft Moon. But curveballs like Wasp Women’s No-Wave-y “Kill Me” and The Units’ peppy ode “Mission” alleviate the future-shock claustrophobia and put the compilation in a category of its own — it’s as much a love letter to the Bay Area’s taste for the goofy and willfully weird as an archival release.

There’s a sense of playfulness that’s immediately apparent in the presentation. Eloise Leigh’s eye-popping jacket design is satisfyingly heavy on pink, blue, and yellow, and comes as a six-panel fold-out poster rather than a standard cardboard pocket, suggesting it would prefer wall space rather than a slot on the shelf. Comprising liner notes from the Guardian’s Johnny Ray Huston and band data on one side and Dr. Art Nuko’s painting Getting Bombed in San Francisco on the other, BART the consumer object feels like something that belongs nowhere so much as Valencia Street’s overflowing vintage zine store, Goteblüd. And while the music contained on the vinyl within can be dark and brooding like “Talk,” or abrasive and fractured like Standard of Living’s “N.F.A.,” the most memorable songs, to me, are the frothy ones: Danny Boy and the Serious Party Gods’ parody-of-a-parody “Castro Boy,” and the above-mentioned “Mission.” The former riffs on Zappa’s “Valley Girl,” but ups the raunch with ad-libs about fisting, while “Mission” builds up to its irrepressible chorus with verses celebrating the unassailable pleasures of being high and eating burritos. Even if you aren’t already a minimal synth nerd, BART is a fun album.

With its variety of styles and lyrical themes, BART holds together not only because there’s a high baseline of quality, but also because of the built-in context. In addition to the design, a lot of work clearly went into finding and collaborating with these long-defunct bands, from securing unheard demos to listing the synth models used for each track. It’s a meticulously assembled record, a guided experience that points out what is so unsatisfying about downloading some lost classic from a sharity blog and deleting it, unlistened to, months later. Its local focus also sets it apart from the compilations that helped define minimal wave, although it contributes to that canon as well.

As the underbelly of an underground dominated in the retelling by figures like Chrome, Flipper, and The Residents, BART‘s new audience lives in a skewed world, where technology provides us with nearly endless opportunities to connect, where analog synths are revered for their warmth and character, and where the Mission is gentrified. Yet faced with an excess of information every time we make a decision, the rough edges of this serious, cynical music offer opportunities to disconnect from the endless demands of the present. The past will always have the advantage of seeming coherent, but BART‘s biggest success is in the way it captures the innovative, corrosive energy of its time. * *


Haushcka that’s good for the ear, not skin


Classical music fans might see the instrumental piano pieces by Germany’s Hauschka and the American Dustin O’Halloran — both performing Thurs/25 at Swedish American Hall — as simplistic. Most of the notes they play are consonant, even if partly obscured by the objects wedged between the strings and hammers of Hauschka’s prepared piano. Instead of seeing this music in terms of two entrenched classical music camps — the John Cage-following avant-gardists on one side and the populists on the other — it’s more telling to see them as nonpartisans, aware of the past but not bound by it. Assisted by guns-for-hire Magik*Magik String Quintet, these two artists create magically wistful, emotionally resonant classical-lite that won’t be lost on those who didn’t grow up listening to Brahms.

With Magik*Magik String Quartet
Thurs/25, 7:30pm, $16
Swedish American Hall
2170 Market, SF
(415) 861-5016

The incredibly filthy truth


MUSIC Since Xiu Xiu’s Fabulous Muscles came out six years ago, the indie press circuit has settled in to give the group a long run of 4-or-5-star, 7.5-to-10-point, and good-to-very-good ratings. It’s the 2000s’ equivalent of 1970s major label benign neglect, which allowed nominally successful artists to go weird in plain sight.

Xiu Xiu has never not been weird, but it’s a deep and personally honest weirdness that, while acknowledged, is rarely unpacked. Critically, it simply has room to exist, but listening to fans, it seems like this band could save your life. Though they are clearly pop — something band leader Jamie Stewart insists on — dusting off the surface reveals a network of underground reference points that actually have the power to shock the middle class.

If those terms — underground, middle class — seem old-fashioned, that’s because they have the potential to describe life as it’s lived, something Xiu Xiu is clearly going for. These terms might be misapplied to indie rock, but Xiu Xiu’s decadence is a moral one beneath the veneer of self-indulgence. Bright red stickers on Xiu Xiu jewel cases contain descriptions of the charitable organizations that the band contributes part of the profits to, not critical plaudits.

Though Xiu Xiu’s personnel fluctuates, Stewart works best with a female counterpoint. Romantic partner Angela Seo has stepped up as muse and collaborator on the band’s latest record, Dear God, I Hate Myself (Kill Rock Stars). Inside, reference points speak not just to Stewart’s personal obsessions — and Xiu Xiu is nothing if not an intensely personal project — but also reveal what’s really at stake in songs that can seem comically self-loathing and also authentically therapeutic.

As with previous releases, everything that happens on Dear God, I Hate Myself can be unpacked from its poppiest song. To my ears, that’s "Chocolate Makes You Happy." It has many of the elements that make up the Xiu Xiu profile: there’s an outsize chorus, a combination of sturdy electronic beats and destabilizing live percussion, and lyrics that are simultaneously moving and outrageous. Seven albums in, Stewart’s breathy voice is still pushing lyrics like "Chocolate makes you happy/As you deign to sing along/When you thrust your fingers down your throat/And wash away what’s wrong," then pivoting seconds later to deliver something like "out of your mind with whoreishness, incredibly young, incredibly filthy."

Musically, Stewart is sticking with the influences he named years ago: Henry Cowell’s dissonant tone clusters and bisexuality, the Cure’s bedroom catharsis and ill-managed longing, the guilelessness of video game music. Equally important, though, are writers like Dennis Cooper and Peter Sotos, gay writers often categorized as "transgressive" for their fiction’s (though Sotos’ writing takes the form of metareportage of pedophilic crime) interest in distinguishing between fantasy and reality. The impulse seems like a moral one; it’s how they draw that line that gets attention. Sotos is certainly the more underground of the two — press photos of an earlier lineup had Xiu Xiu’s faces partially obscured by books, including Sotos’ 2000 Index — and his way of presenting the intolerable has a few less narrative safe-words than Cooper’s.

The reason Xiu Xiu exists, as Stewart has written on the band’s blog, is to be "blunt about awful shit" — awful shit that Stewart or his loved ones have experienced. The personal register distinguishes it from Sotos’ newsprint-stained writings, but both have a narrative technique easily mistaken for no technique, a kind of narrative edge-play. What makes the band so compelling and relevant and seemingly ill-understood is that they take the plunge into being ridiculous, outrageous, and over-the-top — labeling them "confessional" is selling them seriously short. Lyrics and music put the listener close to soiled underwear and civilian corpses, atrocities that take place in the family den or in Fallujah.

Talking openly and achingly about things painfully hidden acknowledges the manipulation and artifice of pop music and, in doing so, puts more faith in its power. Xiu Xiu inspires testimonials because their music creates a place for collective grief. As a result, their music’s catharsis is a personal and political one. And though not every listener has a need for it, in doing what it does naturally, the band takes indie rock snake oil and turns it into chocolate.


With tUnE-YaRdS and Noveller

Sat/20, 10 p.m., $12

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455

Sound effects


MUSIC One can infer a lot about a musician’s relationship to hardcore from their effects pedals. Black Flag pissed off the jocks by growing their hair out and exploring ponderous jam-band territory, but modulating the guitar signal might have been a more serious affront. Black Dice took the latter tack, with Bjorn Copeland’s guitar playing the role of sound generator in contrast to Greg Ginn’s Tourette’s-stricken riff machine. Philadelphia’s David Harms goes by Mincemeat or Tenspeed and does the narrative one better by dispensing with the guitar altogether: his rig consists of a feedback circuit of effects pedals and a mixer.

There may be only one other notable instance of this kind of setup: Nurse With Wound’s uncharacteristic triple-LP of rippling metallic drones, Soliloquy for Lilith (Idle Hole, 1988). NWW’s Steven Stapleton claims to have created the album by gesturing in the air above the circuit — he puts it down to an electrical anomaly in the studio — but Mincemeat’s Harms is more accurately imagined trying, with limited success, to contain his own in-the-red squall by throwing his upper torso over a guitar-pedal-ringed Eye of Sauron. The sound-dust Harms assembles into the seven well-structured pieces that make up Strange Gods (Zum) moves at a velocity and with a restlessness that recall minimalist composers as well as the formal noise bacchanal of Kevin Drumm’s Sheer Hellish Miasma (Mego, 2002). It’s all-American, free-form blood ‘n’ guts noise that takes formal and textural cues from early electronic music — Hair Police listening to Gordon Mumma.

If Mincemeat or Tenspeed’s noise Ouroboros encircles hardcore, their Zum labelmates High Castle (note the initials) use it for rocket fuel. The band shares the bill for tomorrow’s show at the Stud Bar with Mincemeat, but invites comparison with late-1990s punk, though it’s hard to point to a single band. Easier to call out the signs: the trio takes their name from a Philip K. Dick novel, sings in unison without harmonies, features aggressive but rhythmically elastic drumming, and named their best song “Filth.” Fidelity-wise, High Castle’s debut 12″ You’re on Your Own Way sounds damp and fuzzy, like the band (all three members are So Cal natives) is trying to thrash their way to heat. Though the band’s lo-fi production style sounds rote, the way they’re pulling inspiration from neglected corners of underground rock gives a different impression.


With High Castle, Strip Mall Seizures, Zoo

Thur/28, 9 p.m., $3

The Stud Bar

399 Ninth St.

Veronica De Jesus


Veronica De Jesus’ art is centered on drawing — not limited to it — and is sewn to the practice of putting lines on a page in a passionate, automatic way. While the Oakland-based artist’s biography and work speak of displacement and nomadism, her art is unmistakably rooted in the urge to copy and recreate images by hand. She defines drawing as "a relationship between myself, my tools, my hand, what I am observing, and what I choose to define or be interested in."

These relations stretch across the surface of what may be her best-known work, the "Memorial Drawings" series displayed in the windows of Dog Eared Books. The imperfect lines De Jesus traces, poised between brittle and globular like Ben Shahn’s, communicate a middle-distance gaze that allows itself to go wide. The artist isn’t a perfectionist — she says she hasn’t erased a line in a dozen years — and in loosening her grasp on her intentions, she trains our attention on the physicality of drawing, how it deforms its subjects and breaks space. These unconscious flourishes may crystallize or chip away at figures like Golden Girls star Bea Arthur, basketball coach Chuck Daly, and J.G. Ballard, soliciting and troubling the thought that De Jesus’ choices represent straightforward endorsement. When she explains that she is interested "in things our culture takes for granted," one imagines she hasn’t entirely made up her mind about who she’s memorializing, either.

Though aspects of De Jesus’ art relate to biographical details — her drawings of intricately embellished, boxy cars derive from having spent much of her childhood on the road — she considers her art personal rather than confessional. The bulk of her contribution to a group show at Receiver Gallery in November 2006 consisted of car drawings done in white ink on birch. These drawings have the feel of ritual. "Once the basic car is drawn, I just go into a trance," she said. "The line gets built up and all these patterns and fantasies come out … I have a strong suspicion that my car drawings are in part a sort of photocopy of the spirit inside me."

One need only look at the sculptural forms in De Jesus’ 2007 Eleanor Harwood Gallery solo show and her sports-themed 2009 show at Michael Rosenthal Gallery to see what she means when she says she’s trying to create an "avalanche with materials, ideas, and space … an avalanche that is perfectly suspended."

>>GOLDIES 2009: The 21st Guardian Outstanding Local Discovery awards, honoring the Bay’s best in arts

Cass’ corridors



SONGWRITING Cass McCombs writes songs that feel like walking into a trap. It’s clear that the quasi-itinerant singer-songwriter — an old-fashioned term that seems to fit him well — is more aware of genre than the average indie troubadour, which makes his songs easy to enter but difficult to penetrate or exit. His music is not of the confessional variety, though it is indirectly personal. String together the titles that make up his discography and you get some sense of how his coded, morphing symbols approximate but never equal the biographical C.M.: A (4AD, 2003), PREfection (2005), Dropping The Writ (Domino, 2007), and Catacombs (2009). And that’s not even getting to his lyrics, which go about the work of making meaning and then suddenly self-cancel or erupt with the real.

"You Saved My Life," from McCombs’ most recent and accomplished record, is a career apogee in this respect. A swooning lap steel and big blunt snare do much of the heavy lifting to make the tune eminently mixtapeable, but the gratitude suggested by the title is troubled by the hard pivoting action of the phrase, "And I can’t blame you enough," and the wobbly delivery of "Blood to gulp and flesh to eat." McCombs’ canniness has little to do with word games or enigma-baiting, though: McCombs may as well have wandered into the singer-songwriter room after a childhood spent listening to mersh rap radio and simply and unfussily picked up on forms he found useful. McCombs’ music may be especially NPR-ready now, with the worn denim elbows of his current queasy Americana overtaking the Smiths/4AD dazzle that held sway over PREfection and surfaced on Dropping The Writ. Yet in comparison to a The Band-ripping band like Deer Tick, everything about McCombs’ music remains to be said.

One of McCombs’ strengths is the ability to modulate through moods over the course of an album while demanding a kind of deep semantic listening unusual in indie rock. Particularly with Catacombs, one gets the sense that Cass is a born Album Artist, the sort of person who understands the virtues of patience and can shear off the highs of his hits while packing filler with unexpected content. Though the quasi-punning Catacombs comes front-loaded with his most affecting tracks and ends with somewhat disposable, self-consciously lighter fare like "Jonesy Boy" and "One Way to Go," the relations between parts makes it difficult to skip over in-between jams like "Harmonia" and "My Sister, My Spouse." It helps, too, that these little coves of patience — a formalist’s trademark — tend to be where he tries out some of his stringier lyrical ideas.

"This is what happens when a leitmotif implodes," McCombs sings on "Lionkiller Got Married," a sequel to Dropping The Writ‘s opening track and personal standard of sorts, "Lionkiller." He could be explaining his own approach to autobiography with the line. It just may be that his subject matter is as much the act of making sense — as much about the point where the line falls off the page — as it is about the sense he’s making. None of it measures up to, say, Dylan-level fibs or automythology, but it serves an important purpose: you never get the feeling that there’s a straight line from McCombs’ intentions to your reception. This is not a dude in your living room relaying earthy, relatable feelings through his acoustic guitar.

It’d be a bit much to call McCombs an antihumanist, though: whatever slipperiness he manifests stems from a healthy distrust of settled meanings rather than a need to assert his control over his audience. Not to discount, either, that some of his contradictions seem to stem from guilelessness. That McCombs is clearly having fun even when he appears to be dead serious — as with "The Executioner’s Song," say — sets his kind of innocence apart from the standard journo narratives of indie rock discovery. As great as Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar, 2007) is, it will never live down the "dude goes into the forest and records awesome bummer breakup album" rap that’s stamped across it, for the foreseeable future, like a "The Nice Price" sticker.

But McCombs’ mercurial self-presentation seems less like the stamp of a "truer" authenticity than Bon Iver’s than a sustained parry of that terrible word. Not to forget, either, that Catacombs has been lauded in Vice and given Pitchfork’s Best New Music designation. Whether or not we’ve fussed our way into being able to describe what makes McCombs’ music so difficult to digest, there’s something tough and unyielding at its center. Partly I wonder whether this is what rock would sound like without Pavement, but mostly I listen. When it hits wrong, the boredom is palpable. But just as often Catacombs conveys the bottom falling out of meaning in gorgeous slow motion.


With the Papercuts, Girls

Sept. 9, 9 p.m. (doors 8 p.m.), $14–$16

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750

This land is ‘Methland’


DRUG LIT Books claiming to be about drugs in some way — whether nominally fiction or nonfiction — all run up against the same problem: pharmacodependency is already culture. Or, as the literary theorist and academic Avital Ronell puts it in her brilliant, uncategorizable tract, Crack Wars (University of Illinois Press, 1993), drugs articulate "a quiver between history and ontology."

Put another way, drugs aren’t everything, but rituals of self-maintenance and care, from vitamins to exercise and so on, are built on addictive structures. Isoutf8g a drug as a singularity — as Nick Reding only apparently does in Methland (Bloomsbury USA, 272 pages, $24.95), a sort of informal case study of the effects and causes of the meth epidemic in the Iowa town of Oelwein — is a dicey proposition. It calls for a kind of Puritan monomania that might capture some of the lucidity of being on drugs but does so at the price of insight, a deductive rather than inductive logic.

It’s easy to claim that drugs are culture if we limit ourselves to the black-light poster canon of drug lit from Baudelaire’s Les Paradis Artificiels (1860) to Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959) and Bret Easton Ellis’ coke-benumbed Less Than Zero (1985). In their time, those books appeared as threatening as their subject matter because they revealed associations between addiction and literature — a notion that seems rather quaint now. Nobody’s launching hysterical campaigns against toxic literature. Today, video games are the new objects of moral panic. Perhaps as books quietly got subsumed into the category of self-improvement, video games took on the cast of a potentially ruinous pursuit of unproductive labor.

In this context, meth is an oddly positioned drug: since its first large-scale use among soldiers on both sides during World War II, speed has been associated with hard work, endurance, and elevated mood over more abstract qualities. Whether prescribed for slimming down or perking up during its brief tenure as a licit drug, amphetamines have always tended to banal, everyday worry. As Reding writes in his book’s introduction, the U.S. meth epidemic is set apart not only because meth can be synthesized cheaply and discreetly at home, but because the drug’s main constituency is working-class, rural whites. Reding’s take on his subjects is compassionate but not treacly: a significant portion of the book links increased meth use with the effects of globalization upon the blue-collar job markets in small towns.

One of the Oelwein residents Reding profiles, a notorious crank addict named Roland Jarvis, went from earning $18 an hour with full union membership and benefits to $6.20 an hour without benefits or union membership after Gillette and later Tyson took over the company where he worked, Iowa Ham. Jarvis used meth to help pick up extra shifts even in the halcyon days of a livable wage, but it’s difficult to imagine how one could make do on $6.20 an hour without tweeking — Reding claims local meth production increased by 400 percent around the same time. Jarvis’ narrative arc culminates when his home explodes as he attempting to dismantle his basement meth lab. The descriptions that Reding shares — of how Jarvis’ skin proceeded to slough off in sheets, revealing the muscle below, for example — make for a kind of rural Grand Guignol, otherwise held in check by structural explanations.

The author gives the sense of a slightly distracted but pleasant dinner party host — wary of lingering on any subject too long, he returns cyclically to the nonaddicts who form the moral core of the story. Clay Hallberg, Oelwein’s high-strung general practitioner, and Nathan Lein, the assistant Fayette County prosecutor, are the book’s through-lines: their tentative redemption is the town’s, and the book’s conclusion plays out with a Midwestern brand of reticence. But Reding’s attempts to connect Oelwein’s story with his own family history cause the book to lose focus, particularly as it concludes. To his credit, this feels like the result of keeping an over-cautious distance from mom-baiting newsmagazine templates. Ironically, though, some of Methland‘s descriptions of meth-fueled psychosis — an elaborate fetish for enemas; frozen pigs in a blanket used as butt plugs — are far-out enough to be at home in the "Drugs" episode of Channel 4’s satirical documentary program Brass Eye.

Methland also tracks the paths of the meth trade, illustrating how early routes were established by out-migration from the corn belt to labor markets in Southern California, then were consolidated into an empire by Lori Arnold, and finally transformed into a decentralized system in which Mexican traffickers use illegal immigrants employed in the meatpacking industry as mules. By following both federal meth legislation and news coverage of the epidemic, Reding emphasizes meth’s functions and reputation within society. He links the drug to an incredible depression of wages and standard of living by corporations threatening to move operations offshore should they be forced to enact worker protections.

Meth is a drug with no celebrities, and Reding treats his subjects with respect, despite close calls with former addicts who play disc golf with him one minute and threaten his life the next. But even beyond a standard litany of reservations about nonfiction — that the author’s voice is too intrusive or not intrusive enough, that there are chunks of undigested research — Methland’s attempt to combine personal reflections on identity and place with an examination of the drug’s role in a small town’s economic struggles seems formally stale.

Perhaps this approach is more truthful, though: meth in Oelwein offers little in the way of rausch, which Ronell defines as the "ecstasy of intoxication," but can be everything when it comes to making do as agribusiness exerts its downward pressure on communities that had previously survived on small-scale farming and small business. Though he might not be able to keep his readers fully invested in his book’s characters, Reding illuminates how meth flows along the same lopsided trajectory of so-called development for which globalization is a handy catch-all. Meth lit is a distant prospect, and as Ronell reminds us with respect to crack, it’s because these drugs don’t have the veneer of moral defensibility. A writing more appropriate to the subject might put forth a louder call for justice for the future. Methland does an able job for now.

Do the ‘bot



It’s a flagship band on America’s taste-makingest dance music label, but the Juan Maclean’s second full-length of peerless pop disco, The Future Will Come (DFA) is a low-stakes affair. In contrast to the orbit of expectations around the Field’s recently released Yesterday and Today (ANTI-/Kompakt), there isn’t the sense that it should — or can — be read as a measure of the group’s artistic viability.

Which is not to say that Future hasn’t undergone intense scrutiny. Last year’s monster of a teaser single, the 12-minute "Happy House," weathered pages of heated message board discussion among sample spotters, who pointed out that the group lifted the track’s driving two-chord piano vamp from Dubtribe Sound System’s decade-old "Do It Now."

"It was pretty funny," John (a.k.a. Juan) MacLean says by phone, as he and his bandmates drive through Georgia. "Someone was accusing me of ripping someone off in a style of music that has been almost entirely sample-dependent."

Although it has taken on a massive life outside of Future, "Happy House" shows what TJM is capable of: namely, superb pop that uses dance music’s production techniques and structures. This elusive combination was hinted at on its debut, 2005’s Less Than Human (Astralwerks). Now vocals have a more prominent role. Songs such as "One Day" feature a back-and-forth between MacLean and LCD Soundsystem member Nancy Whang that recalls Dare-era Human League.

"We paid a lot more attention to how we were doing [vocals], stylistically," says MacLean, "On the first album it was more like we laid vocals on top of instrumental songs." With Future, the studio effects that masked MacLean’s voice are removed to reveal even colder circuitry. Like Brian Eno or Gary Numan, his tone is both affected and affectless. At times, it’s also goofy unto distraction. Then again, a line like "I’ll be here after midnight, wearing my beleaguered frown" isn’t angling for verisimilitude.

Future also pares down some of the trickier production flourishes that made Less Than Human feel a little insular, if satisfying in its complexity. MacLean describes the process as "nowhere near as difficult" as it was on Human. "This one has so much live playing on it that it’s been a pretty straightforward transition," he says.

The conciliatory quality at the base of Future‘s sound is cleanly framed and well-articulated in a manner that rebuts the tongue-in-cheek prohibition of TJM’s early single "You Can’t Have It Both Ways." The sequencing, for example, places the longer club tracks ("The Simple Life," "Tonight," and "Happy House") squarely at the beginning, middle, and end, spaced out by pop-length songs. MacLean has a history with structure and discipline as aesthetic strategies — from his earliest releases with Six Finger Satellite, he’s consistently taken cues from Kraftwerk over, say, Creedence.

The Juan MacLean makes music that’s uncomplicatedly likeable, even as the group emphasizes robot drama, traditionally not an easy sell with American audiences. "It’s easier to be crazy and out-there and experimental," MacLean says. "The pop music world is more difficult to navigate." Future puts that difficulty across to the listener with "Human Disaster," which sounds like a piano ballad with every other chord taken out. If I could get past just how bummed out MacLean sounds, I might hear it as a rebuke to listeners looking for recognizable emotion.

The album’s title track, on the other hand, plays as straight-up satire, and comes close to calling trust-funders out by name. It’s hard to tell brilliant and clumsy apart as Maclean pronounces "Your life in the city is a paid vacation /Your suicide note was a part of your thesis" over a hopped-up conga loop. "In New York, you find yourself surrounded by people who just talk a lot about doing things without ever getting them done — types that don’t have to live all that desperately," MacLean explains.

This is an assuringly human sentiment. On Future, class antagonism and Teutonic robots might be shunted aside by listeners in favor of values like emotional immediacy, personal agency, and dubiously coded ideals of authenticity and originality. Ultimately the Juan MacLean’s latest serves to emphasize that DFA is a label based on fandom committed to communicating the pleasure of listening. It gives us a glimpse of its maker’s canon, and a host of new thrills.


With the Field

Sat/6, 9 p.m., $20


444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880

At the desert shore



At some point between the group’s termination in 1981 and re-formation in 2004, Throbbing Gristle entered the canon. The more Throbbing Gristle music you’ve heard, and the more you’ve read about it, the less likely that conversion will seem. Matmos’ Drew Daniels acknowledged as much in his contribution to Continuum’s 33 1/3 series on classic albums, an exegesis of the band’s most accessible statement, the puzzling 20 Jazz Funk Greats (Industrial Records, 1979). The group’s relationship with music-as-such was perverse enough to make contemporaries like the Sex Pistols look like Chuck Berry revivalists. Back in the saddle after nearly a quarter-century, Throbbing Gristle mark two has less in common with the noise pranksters of old than the divergent, innovative projects the group has splintered into: spokes(wo)man and singer Genesis P-Orridge’s Burroughsian reengineering of rock’s DNA with Psychic TV; synth whiz Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson’s protean electronic voyages with Coil; and the rain-slick, dark disco of Cosey Fanni Tutti and Chris Carter’s Carter Tutti project all figure in the group’s latest recording, the appropriately bizarre Part Two: The Endless Not (Mute, 2007).

P-Orridge, the most visible and outspoken member, is seductively articulate about the band’s intentions: they have little to do with making music that plays into the pleasure of listening, and much to do with music’s mainline connection to culture. For all of Throbbing Gristle’s touted firsts, its music often verges on indecipherable. None of the group’s gritty, lo-fi recordings evoke emotions beyond a vague, lingering unease. But, the achievements: Throbbing Gristle literally invented modern industrial music with the founding of its so-named label, members Carter and Sleazy are credited with developing an early keyboard-triggered sampler, Tutti’s "Hot on the Heels of Love" was a prime inspiration for first-wave Detroit techno, and "(We Hate You) Little Girls" predates Whitehouse’s power electronics and the whole harsh-noise underground long since percoutf8g in the U.S. and Japan. And so on.

The weird thing about such innovations is that those committed to establishing Throbbing Gristle’s major authorship risk freezing and trapping these self-appointed culture-creeps within one historical moment or another. Despite all the collateral riding on Throbbing Gristle’s "seminal" place in the last half-decade of musical and cultural history, the band’s deliberate failure to be just that — a band — in any conventional sense needs to be acknowledged, partly as a tactical gambit. If Throbbing Gristle is a band more talked about than listened to, it seems inconsequential. Individually and collectively, they were prescient enough to choose culture as their medium, and music as a tool for scrambling it. It’s a foresight that has been borne out by MTV and then the Internet, but the tricky thing is that Throbbing Gristle’s actual accomplishment — the meaning behind what it does — isn’t in music itself, but in culture. That’s a zone where significance tends to be more protean; we can’t simply rely on albums as self-contained, coherent statements that we can either identify with or reject. There’s something trickier going on here, as if Throbbing Gristle’s music is meant to be heard at the second or third degree, when everything’s been attenuated.

The Throbbing Gristle project grew out of COUM Transmissions, a sort of umbrella term for performances and art projects that had strong affinities with the extreme performance artists known as the Vienna Aktionists, William Burroughs, and occultist Aleister Crowley. Their best-known installation, "Pornography," in a gallery within spitting distance of Buckingham Palace, most notably exhibited images of Cosey from various British porn magazines. It was a publicly-funded blight whose purpose was, in part, to convert sensationalist press into a feedback loop worth contemputf8g: the group framed and mounted outraged press clippings, and when newspapers published articles about this détournement, framed those as well. This press-driven mise-en-abyme probably offers the best example of how to listen to TG. The band plumbed new depths with feedback and delay, but their raison d’être was, beyond electronic trickery, setting up circular cultural patterns that explode hypocrisy. In doing so, the creative forces within Throbbing Gristle afford themselves the freedom to play any villainous or anti-heroic role handed to them.


Thurs/23, 8 p.m., sold out

Grand Ballroom, Regency Center

1290 Sutter, SF


Thurs/23–Sun/26, various venues

First Person Magazine benefit party featuring Gudrun Gut


PREVIEW Now two years old, I Put A Record On (Monika Enterprise, 2007) is a record worth lingering over. In addition to being the first solo release from Berlin-based musical gadabout Gudrun Gut, it’s remarkable for how unhurried Gut was in getting around to it: she’s been appearing on recordings and taking part in bands, including a very early incarnation of industrial pioneers Einstürzende Neubauten, for more than 25 years. Her intervening projects give her the aura of a post-punk Zelig: the all-female punk band Malaria! formed in 1981, toured with the Birthday Party, put out records on Belgian boutique label Les Disques du Crepuscule, and performed with Nina Hagen at Studio 54. That the group’s "Kaltes Klares Wasser" would later be covered by Chicks on Speed was a foregone conclusion.

The synthy Matador followed Malaria!’s collapse, but Gut’s ear eventually led her, like any good punk, to techno. With typical great timing too: Berlin had just undergone a techno surge, spearheaded by local duo and label Basic Channel. Abandoning the constraints of playing in a rock-derived idiom in favor of more uncharted territory, Gut also had the good fortune to run across Thomas Fehlmann, a producer with post-punk roots who had recently collaborated with Alex Paterson’s downtempo pace-setters the Orb. The two founded Ocean Club, producing a weekly genre-stomping radio show as well as parties that paired up the likes of experimental techno producer Thomas Brinkmann and splay-shirted southern gothic aficionado Nick Cave.

None of this is new information, yet all of it is useful in figuring out how something like I Put A Record On came to be. It’s beguiling, though free of big emotions — a left-field album that functions as an homage to the hypnotic state that arrives when you’re sucked into your favorite records. The best indication of its intentions is provided by the sole cover, of Smog’s "Rock Bottom Riser." Gut’s multitracked delivery, over a pistoning and downtrodden bass drum, is affectless enough to make Bill Callahan’s stoic delivery on the original seem fraught. But by the end, she’s wracked by giggles, as flecks of color appear like dried spittle around the monochrome production’s edges. Gut is not an innovator: both she and Callahan are committed to the old, inexhaustible pleasure of listening, regardless of genre. And this is exactly what allows them to give back to their respective genres, if we care to name them, some missing essence.

FIRST PERSON MAGAZINE BENEFIT PARTY FEATURING GUDRUN GUT with Thomas Fehlmann, Grecco Guggenheit, and Nate Boyce. Fri/24, 10 p.m., $10-$15. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. (415) 625-8880.

About time


› a&

Four Tet’s music is sticky. The word works as a description of Kieran Hebden’s gluey way of making precious, melodic samples adhere to languid hip-hop beats. It also conveys that Four Tet’s sound not only bears down into your memory, it also becomes a medium for memories in its own right. To listen to Four Tet is to think about time, and Hebden has an uncanny way of illuminating the cargo that mundane details carry.

Rounds (Domino, 2003) is widely considered Four Tet’s definitive release; its slight innovation lies in refining Pause‘s (Domino, 2001) fusion of Madlib-esque, fuzz-on-the-needle beats with folky but not fey loops. The effect is major, though, a kind of déjà vu in reverse, as if Hebden amplified a previously inaudible and consequential universe. Rounds, too, runs at a fraction pf the pace of daily life: it’s the aural equivalent of a shaft of sunlight scanning your skin as you sit down to tea. Yet Rounds was a happy willed accident, if one goes by the free jazz-accented and comparatively opaque Everything Ecstatic (Domino, 2005). In the wake of these recordings, the stylistic shifts of Hebden’s recent EP, Ringer (Domino, 2008), run the risk of painting him a techno arriviste. But they result in his most deeply engaging release, one that explores Four Tet’s signature affect while calling upon greater patience and deeper listening.

Although techno can come off as a genre for soliloquists, Hebden brings the interplay and tension he developed in live and recorded collaborations with drummer Steve Reid to Ringer‘s sprawling title track. It runs a near-funky, Cluster-like synth arpeggio alongside a gold lamé string loop, splitting the difference between Kraut and Italo before dropping in an oonce oonce 4/4 beat. If you listen to the hi-hats rather than the bass drum, it’s no less rhythmically complex than an earlier, super-syncopated track like Rounds‘ "Unspoken." Lest you think Hebden’s just transposing his quirks into a new genre’s language, he presents the drone-backed heartbeat of "Swimmer," which charts an previously unimagined middle place between Donnacha Costello’s funk and Charlemagne Palestine going buck wild on a Yamaha DX-7. A very yellow song, like a prolonged burst of vitamin D into the bloodstream.

Hebden imparts an auteur’s stamp on everything he touches: Ringer never disappears into its supposed adoptive genre. It’s admirable to not abandon your audience or imprimatur, but no critic will ever label Four Tet rigorous or its pleasures hard-won. The lion’s share of this music’s appeal, after all, lies in the feeling of a generation coming into its inheritance, an uncorny merger of backpacker aesthetics and Aphex Twin-isms.

A few years from now, Four Tet might strike Web-nourished music fans as a bit middlebrow and embarrassing because of Hebden’s old-fashioned insistence on both meaning and abstraction instead of a wholesale adoption of one over the other. (A dialectic nicely embodied by Dan Deacon on one hand and Black Dice on the other.) Although Hebden’s conclusions are never facile, they aren’t particularly difficult to grasp. The number of commercials that spun off of Rounds almost reached Ratatat levels of exposure, a worrying phenomenon because both groups’ adoption of hip-hop is based on excising, along with non-PC elements, its futuristic streak. Rap doesn’t make a particularly good pillow, and its history is a little too gnarled to be adequately represented by a musty snare.

The problematic aspects of Hebden’s approach don’t detract from the real satisfaction and density of Four Tet’s music. Rounds will always evoke, for me, not just the mezzanine café of Toulouse’s XPRMNTL, a gallery/cultural clearinghouse where I first heard it over hot chocolate, but also a whole way of approaching time I’ve rarely experienced since that moment. Music that dilates the familiar into its own universe makes for a soft revelation, and I get the sense that Four Tet’s real innovation is only just starting to be understood by its audience.


with John Hopkins

9 p.m. (doors 8 p.m.), $18


444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880

Recreational transmissions


› a&

Ariel Pink’s music has never existed above or apart from the scrambling music critics do to make sense of it. Not that the busted transmissions making up his Haunted Graffiti series could ever be accused of careerism or provocation. The multiyear lapse between the initial release of his tapes and their reissue under Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks imprint is a requirement for so-called outsider cred, though using the term for an art-schooled kid from Los Angeles is dubious. But even viewed cynically, it’s a serious lacuna, one that doesn’t cotton to Internet imperatives of irony, fidelity, or decipherability.

The received wisdom holds that Pink’s hiss-scored no-fi home recordings are a ghostly take on 1970s MOR/AM radio pap. He does spend serious time anchored in Yacht Rock Cove, particularly on HG entry Scared Famous (self-released, 2002; Human Ear Music, 2007). The cramped verses of Scared‘s exemplary "Gopacapulco" open onto a jingle-chorus, a glimpse of cruise ship Thanatos. The album’s other memorable tracks find him slipping through more schizo territory, with Pink mainlining Deniece Williams over the irrepressible pharyngeal keyboards of "Are You Gonna Look After My Boys?" and huffing Scotchgard on the Kinks’ village green via "Beefbud."

This is music that does more than point to other music, though. If there’s a lasting appeal to Pink’s music, it doesn’t have to do with name-dropping or referentiality — it has everything to do with making these connections problematic, suggesting an outside to the music only to bounce the listener back on the artist’s hermetic world. That’s another way of saying that Pink’s deliberately shoddy craftsmanship is the point of his music: his verses, choruses, and bridges can be so nonlinear they make track divisions seem like an arbitrary nicety.

There’s a tossed-off bit of cruise-ship pondering in Vita Sackville-West’s 1961 novel No Signposts in the Sea that can partly clarify the way in which Ariel Pink is not ironic. Narrator Edmund caps a brief description of harbor cranes by imagining one picking up and flinging an automobile, thinking that the car would appear "as foolish as any object deprived of its rightful means of progression." There’s no way Ariel Pink’s music could be unironical, but the kind of built-in irony isn’t automatic or mocking — the traces of pop moments past that make up the uneven surface of his music aren’t floating there to show how ridiculous and impotent the feelings of our parents’ generation were. Like his patrons in Animal Collective, Pink’s music deals in, to paraphrase critic Mike Powell, the terror and murk of firsts.

Not to say there isn’t humor to spare — just that I won’t waste time trying to explain what’s satisfying about misanthropic bursts like "mankind is a Nazi" on the 10-minute prog epic "Trepanated Earth" off Worn Copy (Paw Tracks, 2005). Pink’s inability to recreate his ad hoc recordings live has earned him a special place in the annals of "you get what you pay for" online vitriol. But how can one expect him to be faithful to his recordings when the recordings aren’t even faithful to themselves? *


With Duchess Says and Cryptacize

Tues/17, 9 p.m., $10–$12

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455

Two’s the charm


You could dig up what you need to know about Baltimore, Md.’s Thank You on the Internet pretty easily: names, dates, discography, samples, and pics. Friends of mine released a real labor-of-love album recently, and a preliminary Lycos search turned up a review that was 90 percent press release. This is the kind of disappointment that makes me think rock criticism à la Richard Meltzer — the kind that trades in imaginative, frequently lazy yet still illuminating misinformation — is due for a comeback.

Judging by the name, I thought Thank You was the sort of band to be "in" on these sorts of pranks at rock’s expense. But search "thank+you+band" and blam, there it is. Thank You has a bona fide album on a serious indie, Terrible Two (Thrill Jockey, 2008), and, depending on your perspective, it can count as a long EP or short LP.

The opening track, "Empty Legs," is an oceanic expanse of faux-metal churn. The whistle toots toward the beginning reach out to fellow Thrill Jocks OOIOO’s ecstatic, kinda impenetrable Taiga (2006), but once the musicians settle in, the flashbacks are of the Don Caballero/Storm and Stress variety. It’s perverse post-rock all the way, but you probably knew that anyway, based on song titles like "Embryo Imbroglio."

Terrible Two‘s best quality is precisely that we don’t know what to make of it. That’s the point of the album and what makes the band a close fit with post-rock’s steez. Many standard-issue indie descriptors apply to Thank You’s music — it’s rhythmic and sports chanty vocals and so-called tribal percussion — but there’s a lingering question over what we’re supposed to do with it. Zone/make/freak out? The music doesn’t hang together in an album-as-statement way: it just drifts in and out of cymbal-showered cosmic grooves.

Thrill Jockey describes Thank You’s sound as a resource for "beat-diggers and electronic artists," raw material for repurposing, but don’t be discouraged by the ambiguity. The toxic assets spilling out of indie’s boom and bust aren’t crispy organs and tuned tom-toms — instead they’re everything embodied by Beirut and Jeremy Jay. Those dudes took it too far, while Thank You, like tourmates Mi Ami, take it further out. For examps, the only reason to tune out of the chugging, hypnotic middle section of the slothy title track would be to peep the mind-melting percussive discourses of N’Diaye Rose Sabar Group’s video clips — though you’d still end up coming back to finish "Terrible Two" off.

Chris Coady, who’s worked with fellow Charm City residents Celebration, mixed Terrible Two and gives it the saturated, subtly warped tone that sounds like a really classy 4-track, a sound Beach House also go in for. The production enhances the already-glassy quality of the songs. I imagine Thank You’s process for composing as something I christen "deep jamming": discarding the first dozen ideas that you stumble upon as a group, then reducing the 13th riff by half and looping indefinitely. In this sense, Thank You could have existed in the mid-’90s without arousing suspicions of time travel: it sounds like the ensemble mainly uses the computer to check out A Minor Forest’s page and play Minesweeper.

As far as Bmore bands go, this threesome out-Apollonian Animal Collective. Or out-Dionysian. We can leave that to the unspecified future lady/dude with the sampler to figure out.


With Mi Ami and JAWS

Fri/27, 9:30 p.m., $7

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923

Gimme Gimme


"I fucking hate normal garage rock," says Hunx. "It’s so boring. I love when it’s weirder."

If you’ve heard either of the two 7-inch singles the man born Seth Bogart put out last year under the name Hunx and His Punx — the debut "Good Kisser"/"Cruisin" EP on Austria’s Bachelor Records and "Gimme Gimme Back Your Love"/"You Don’t Like Rock ‘n’ Roll" on Rob’s House — you probably know where a comment like that comes from. Over the phone, Hunx and I agree that Jay Reatard doesn’t fall into the category: he’s too interesting with his combination of power-pop hooks and Public Image Ltd.-esque, spacious production techniques. Hunx, for his part, tweaks the formula by holding onto garage’s obsession with lo-fi recording and trash culture while injecting queercore gender-play into the mix.

In contrast to the genre-hopping hodgepodge of Gravy Train!!!! — the East Bay mainstays and hamburger advocates for which Hunx plays keyboards and sings — the Hunx and His Punx records sound like they’re drawing on fewer sources, but the songs are just as dense with jokes and sneaky melodies. But while the songs carry their own weight, half the story is Hunx’s charisma. Rather than coming off as buttoned-down in comparison to his other, famously raunchy band, the coyness and cuteness of "Gimme Gimme Back Your Love" shifts the focus to the strength of his nasally vocals and the wonderfully complete stories he sketches, running from heartbreak to new hook-up in seconds.

With Gravy Train!!!! scaling back its activities in the wake of vocalist Chunx’s relocation to Los Angeles and the difficult work of making a name for Down at Lulu’s — the Oakland salon-cum-vintage clothing store he runs with friend Tina Lucchesi — mostly behind him, it’s the right time for the quite literally hunky dude to release some new jams into the world.

Jay Reatard’s Shattered Records will be coming out of hibernation to release one of Hunx’s forthcoming records, and two others will be on their way via Bubbledumb and True Panther. The idea is to put out an album collecting the singles in the near future, and then, Hunx explains, "I want to come out with something super gay after that, like a disco record, so that all the people that got into [Hunx and His Punx] that are rockers are like, ‘Blah.’<0x2009>"

Hunx tells me that these records shouldn’t be seen as a Gravy Train!!!! side project, though. The seeds for the Punx were planted when Seth’s friend Nobunny, wrote a batch of songs with the intention of starting a Runaways-esque band made up of high school girls. "That’s why all those songs are about boys and stuff," Hunx says. "But then, he was, like, too creepy or something and couldn’t find any girls."

The two recorded some of the songs in Hunx’s hometown of Tucson and then sat on them for about a year before deciding to release them, along with other songs Hunx had written in the interim, as singles. The vocalist tells me that while he thinks the songs Nobunny wrote would be great sung by a girl, they’re better "sung in a gay way because there’s not that much going on like that."

He’s right, of course: the current crop of unorthodox garage rock revivalists like a dab of New Zealand pop ambition in their recession rock but don’t seem to have much use for gender ambiguity. Nor, for that matter, do they have lines as good as "We’ll go to Del Taco / and order something macho" from the boyf-stealing story "Good Kisser," or "What the hell is wrong with you / I think you sniffed too much glue" from the self-explanatory breakup rocker "You Don’t Like Rock ‘n’ Roll."

Although Hunx sometimes performs live with only a backing track and dancers — he likes the "talent show" feel — the upcoming Gilman show will include a full band of mostly "hot, straight dudes that I make dress up really slutty," the frontman promises. "Leather jackets with no shirt underneath and nylons and stuff. They always try to take home the outfits."


Sat/31, 7:30 p.m. doors, $8

924 Gilman Street Project, Berk.


Calvin Johnson


PREVIEW It’s not hard to see Calvin Johnson as the obverse of Henry Rollins in the protean world of ’80s underground rock. Johnson’s teddy-bear huggability, and the straightforwardness and purity of sentiment of a track like his old band Beat Happening’s "Honey Pot," has nothing to do with Black Flag’s macho angst. Rather than burying his emotional life under muscle, Johnson’s appeal came from an embarrassing vulnerability. While he’s better known for his historic role and his work as K Records’ head honcho than for his current endeavors, Johnson remains au courant: his most recent release, Calvin Johnson and the Sons of the Soil (K, 2007), finds him backed by the likes of Adam Forkner, a.k.a. Portland, Ore., drone chief White Rainbow.

At press time, San Francisco opening act Grass Widow tentatively canceled its performance due to multiple family emergencies, so this Club Sandwich event will likely be rounded out by screenings of Heart of Nowhere, a stream-of-consciousness documentary about life in Alabama, and Crisis in the Credit System, a 2008 film by Melanie Gilligan. If you’re missing the cold, these hits of sunshine might not be for you.

CALVIN JOHNSON With screening of Heart of Nowhere and Crisis in the Credit System. Mon/26, 8 p.m., $6. Artists’ Television Access, 992 Valencia, SF. (415) 824-3890,,

Inca Ore


PREVIEW In the liner notes to his Automatic Writing (Lovely Music, 1996), Robert Ashley talks about how he tried to source text for his 1967 opera That Morning Thing by soliciting recordings from his friends narrating, without psychological or moral interpretation, scenes from their life that they’d chosen to keep secret. Describing the results of his survey as "very bad," Ashley decided to synthesize his own text, the result being the viscerally creepy "Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon."

The mercurial earth-mother drones of Inca Ore — the solo moniker of Oakland’s Eva Saelens — have, in their blown-out glory, a circuitous sonic relationship with the whining Moog ambience of Ashley’s strangest music, and the raw psychic effects of last year’s Birthday of Bless You (No Fun) are comparable to the composer’s work. Leaping from the absolutely banal to the densely metaphysical, Bless You‘s world is psychology- and morality-free, and when words replace bodiless moans, the effect is evocative, occult, and informed by a slight but potent sense of self-parody. As she declaims through a delay pedal at the conclusion to scrape-scape "Infant Ra": "to all jewels buried in the grass, awake, discovery, in oyster shells!" It’s not a hard world to get sucked into.

INCA ORE With Mangled Bohemians, and the Why Because. Wed/14, 9 p.m., $6.

Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. (415) 923-0923,

Vive l’amour


› a&

REVIEW Stephanie Young edited the anthology Bay Poetics (Faux Press, 432 pages, $29), which attempted to take a snapshot of the Bay Area’s poetry scene while acknowledging the failure built into such a task. Her second book of poetry, Picture Palace (in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni, 120 pages, $15), is not particularly concerned with choosing between various poetic modes and traditions. Picture Palace draws as heavily on pop culture as it does on theory to find its form and to subsequently understand form’s impact on content. In the process, Young escapes the lyric poetry/language poetry binary. (Or, to use a less geography-bound but equally contemporary axis, the flarf/conceptual poetry binary.)

As its title suggests, Picture Palace is heavily invested in movies. Young makes and unmakes icons as well as the minutiae of daily life. On the theoretical tip, she applies Gaston Bachelard’s thought in books like 1994’s Poetics of Space and 1987’s The Psychoanalysis of Fire to the act of walking around Lake Merritt. In terms of ideas and visual imagination, Picture Palace is best described as dense. Images and their aftereffects are at play, but the reader has to dig for the gratifying thrill of recognition; even when a pop-culture reference is spotted, it has a strange murky glimmer. Young is both recovering a shared experience and implanting a new one when she writes lines like "Tim Robbins with Tupac<0x2009>/ the one where they stabbed each other<0x2009>/ for treatment," in "Betty Page We Love You Get Up."

There are other funny moments (the most intense flashes of Sylvia Plath’s "Lady Lazarus" are condensed into the formula "Rising, ash, eat, air, etc."), yet the real thrill of Picture Palace comes from the way it jumps between different levels of knowledge, in the kind of epistemological recreation that brings us back to Bachelard. Young’s ability to portray, in tandem, the way her speakers routinely perceive the world and the way they are able to break with those perceptions, and the ways of knowing the world that those perceptions embody, reminds me of the libretti of Robert Ashley’s operas more than it does the work of other contemporary poets. Much like the titular protagonist of Ashley’s Now Eleanor’s Idea (2007), her poetry is haunted by an "end of the world feeling," but where that feeling prodded Now Eleanor to pursue investigative journalism focusing on New Mexico’s lowrider culture, the same feeling pushes Young’s speakers to ponder and deform images projected onto, or from, screens: "There was a superimposed face on my face and I gradually came to see my own belief that it could never change. In this way my face functioned as an image on film."

The overall effect — and this seems like an inaccurate phrase, given how much Young’s poetics depends on micro-effects, small calibrations, and reversals of thought — is similar to Lynne Tillman’s 2006 novel American Genius. By this I mean that both writers’ driving concern is finding new forms to convey new experiences; they each establish a voice that, in its neurotic precision, contains multitudes.

Funky Meters


PREVIEW Since we’re dealing with a reunion here, let’s start with what’s missing: the funky Meters are not the same as the original Meters. You might own some records by the plain old Meters, the New Orleans funk unit whose best-known full-lengths are Look-Ka Py Py (Josie, 1969) and Fire on the Bayou (Reprise, 1975). That version of Meters consisted of — in addition to singer-keyboardist Art Neville and bassist George Porter Jr. — guitarist Leo Nocentelli and drummer Joseph Modeliste. The band, which broke up in 1977, reformed in 1989 as the funky Meters, with the latter two original members being replaced, at different points, by Brian Stoltz and Russell Batiste Jr. To make matters more confusing, the original lineup occasionally plays dates as well — thus, the original vs. funky distinction.

Robert Christgau called the Meters "a totally original band," and as usual he’s right: the band’s sound contributed in a big way to the development of funk and was an idiosyncratic voice within it. Fire on the Bayou is probably its most-appreciated album, but even at the height of its power, the group had a funny way of shamelessly accommodating itself to pop formulae without abandoning its uniqueness. This is the kind of outfit self-aware enough to give its disc’s longest and least engaging track the self-deprecating title "Middle of the Road," and yet make the track — whose style presages the smooth jazz radio format — melodically and rhythmically sophisticated enough to maintain your basic attention, because the musicians know that’s all they can ask for. Although Modeliste’s and Nocentelli’s contributions to the Meters were substantial enough to justify being wary of their substitutions in the Funky Meters’ lineup, something in the ensemble’s past behavior indicates they all might be on the same page, with the same doubts, and better — or at least more honest — performers for the experience.

BILL’S BIRTHDAY BASH With funky Meters featuring Cyril Neville, Marcia Ball, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and Bonnie Raitt with Hutch Hutchinson. Sat/10, 9 p.m., $50. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. (415) 421-TIXS,



PREVIEW Los Angeles’ Orgone chose its name well: if you have a couple hours to kill, you could do worse than riding the Wikipedia reference trail in the direction of Wilhelm Reich’s concept and its ambitious attempt to link observable events with libidinal energy. What the idea lacks in scientific standing, it makes up for in its ability to st(r)oke the imagination. Orgone’s abbreviated Afrobeat-soul-funk jams might even make a good alternate soundtrack to the orgy of styles, stories, and moods on display in Dušan Makavejev’s W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971). Even though Orgone has nine core members, there’s nothing flabby or random about the ensemble’s sound: Fela Kuti’s fusion of Ghanaian highlife and American funk sets the rules and agenda for the group on tracks like "It’s What You Do," and the playing is tight enough to put accusations of "genre exercise" to bed while brimming with the kind of coherence that might even make something as anarchic as W.R. make sense.

But even when dipping their toe in Afrobeat, Orgone’s overriding ambition clearly points to the soul/funk axis of Otis Redding and the Meters. Next to Antibalas’ jazzy flow, Orgone’s horns seem unable to content themselves with Afrobeat’s long-form, percoutf8g build, eager instead to burst out of the song’s frame. Romantic longing is the locus of this Angeleno nonet’s music, a point that’s unmistakable when vocalist Fanny Franklin steps up to the mic on tracks like "Who Knows Who." In submitting to its influences rather than vying for the romantic notion of the original artist, Orgone humbly hits all the pleasure points strewn across the genres the band venerates. It feels as bright and welcoming as it sounds.

ORGONE With DJ K-OS. Sat/3, 9:30 p.m., $15. Boom Boom Room, 1601 Fillmore, SF. (415) 673-8000,

Moving forward


› a&

Gathering my thoughts about how I listened to music in 2008, I think not only of Luc Sante’s piece on Manny Farber in this month’s Artforum, but also Ariana Reines’ Action, Yes piece explaining why she hates the "cleanness and elegance of tight and perfect writing." In different ways, both pieces deal with the importance of smallness, incompleteness, and, to steal the title of Reines’ piece, "sucking."

Because it’s easy not to suck, and this may or may not be the Internet’s fault. Music itself did not suck in 2008, despite the crumbling of an always-already imaginary consensus, and that’s maybe what’s so unsatisfying about trying to hang 12 months on something as well-executed yet under-inspiring as, say, Dear Science (Interscope). I’m not sure that people won’t start rallying around a single release or clutch of releases to narrate what made this year worth listening to deeply, but the albums that spring to mind now as forecasting what will sound good in the future are ones that pursued a small, near-inarticulate muse and ended up with something almost monomaniacal. It’s not a coincidence then that so many of these records were made during time apart from the artists’ main gig. The economy, man. We all gotta grind.


1. Inca Ore, Birthday of Bless You (Not Not Fun)

Former PDXer and current Oaklander Eva Saelens is Inca Ore. Her most recent solo LP is an incantatory, patient ritual, a literally awesome tapestry of magnetic tape smears, disembodied wails, and dark, roiling resonance.

2. Arms, Kids Aflame (Melodic)

Harlem Shakes guitarist Todd Goldstein strikes out on his own here, and the results can be insanely satisfying: the indie triumvirate made up of "Whirring," the title track, and "Tiger Tamer" is a welcome reminder that pop music is supposed to make your heart race. The album’s second half is less distinctive, but it’s not like it hasn’t earned the right to be.

3. Bohren and der Club of Gore, Dolores (Ipecac)

There’s nothing organic about this full-length’s inert pace: slow enough to make Swans sound like a thrash band, its floating vibraphone riffs eerily familiar/defamiliarizing like only the Twin Peaks soundtrack before it, Dolores at times seems like a morbid joke. If the characters in Samuel Beckett’s trilogy listened to music, I have a hunch it would sound much like this.

4. Zomes, Zomes (Holy Mountain)

In addition to playing guitar in Lungfish, Asa Osborne constructs sturdy little habitations out of drum machine, guitar, and organ under the Zomes moniker. While it may sound too controlled at first, the recording’s insistence on small, unvarying patterns reveals itself as an autonomous language over time, its photocopy mystery emerging from the stuff of repetition and reproduction itself.

5. Ssion, Fool’s Gold (Sleazetone)

This disc’s two release dates might as well stand in for its own ability to navigate, rather than drown in, Internet-era self-reflexivity — it seems less like a one-off collection of jams than a collection of techniques for fucking with identity. Tracks like "Street Jizz" and "Clown" don’t have to decide between earnestly camp and campily earnest because they realize a third way.

6. School of Language, Sea from Shore (Thrill Jockey)

The punched-out vowel sounds that open this album recall, like Sébastien Tellier’s "Divine," old Art of Noise productions. Field Music’s David Brewis uses them as a bed not for uptight Euro-funk, but for generously rendered bedroom prog. At moments surprisingly muscular ("Disappointment ’99") but always rhythmically ambitious, Sea may seem like Manny Farber’s "white elephant art" from the outside, but is unmistakably "termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art" within.

7. Indian Jewelry, "Free Gold!" (We Are Free)

Thematically, the idea of establishing your own currency as a subversion of government and the totalizing power of capitalism both has a precedent, at least, in the B-52’s Whammy (Warner Bros., 1983). The record’s appeal has little to do with good timing, however: there are too many honest-to-goodness songs here for it to be "out" rock, too much Rev/Vega worship for it to be simply psychedelic. Gold’s appeal, instead, is its beefy epileptic punch. Listen close and feel the retina burn.

8. Portishead, Third (Mercury/Island)

It would be a lie if I said I didn’t care about this band before this album, but what’s remarkable here is that for all the group’s touted perfectionism, the two preceding LPs consistently opted for the warmth of loneliness, something the listener could, y’know, identify with. In contrast, Third is a hard, long, steely drag on modernism’s cold monumentality: "Machine Gun" is dubstep packed tight into a tarry espresso shot. Even the escape imagined in "The Rip" is hounded by a spidery Casio riff — the stuff of uneasy sleep.

9. RA.085, Tobias Freund Podcast (

Stepping away from dance-oriented mixes for a minute, Resident Advisor commissions the best mix they’ve ever hosted. Freund’s work is hard to find, but this mix makes clear that he’s got a privileged understanding of both minimal techno and ambient’s DNA — and some killer crate-digging luck. I mean, come on, that Savant track? (Discogs it!)

10. Gang Gang Dance, Saint Dymphna (Social Registry)

The cliché about bands like GGD — nominally "noise," but whose music actually deals in another kind of abstraction, like Animal Collective or Excepter — is that they get more pop and more weird as they grow into their career. Saint Dymphna can be swallowed whole — parts of God’s Money (Social Registry, 2005) tended to stick in the throat — and the group makes no bones that this comes at the expense of extraneous oddness. But a certain strange eclecticism takes its stead. Occasionally Lizzie Bougastos’ voice sounds like a Wiccan falsetto incarnation of M.I.A. The band openly goes for dubstep in "Princes," and "House Jam" is the song folks will go apeshit over at their reunion concerts 20 years in the future.


YaHoWha 13


PREVIEW It’s hard to know where to begin or end when it comes to telling the story of the Source Family, the commune out of which YaHoWha 13’s recordings emerged. The Source — an organic, vegetarian Los Angeles restaurant founded in 1969 by the group’s leader, Father Yod — had a distinct, documentable existence, but as these things go, the spiritual family that gathered around it was considerably more amorphous. YaHoWha 13 released nine LPs, all of which were improvised and recorded in one take. Listening to the music now, it’s clear that we lack the full transcript for what went on behind the scenes, as most of the group’s philosophy remains a secret. But we can rest assured that the members of the re-formed band — Djin, Octavius, and Sunflower Aquarius — now find themselves in a similar position musically: "For the most part, we’re going to be playing spontaneously," Djin says by phone from Mount Shasta. "But we’ve had requests to do tunes that came out of improvisation on the albums, and that requires us to learn them since we don’t know how we played or even what key we played in."

It’s an unlikely reunion not only due to the nature of the material, but also because of the forces bringing the group together. Considerably more popular with the folks who read the Forced Exposure catalog than, say, Pitchfork followers, YaHoWha 13 don’t hang their reputation on a single, easily communicable musical achievement — they don’t have a Loveless, but they do have Penetration: An Aquarian Symphony (Higher Key, 1974). "It almost seems like there was a divine plan in this entire resurrection," Djin says. "Billy Corgan and his friend Carrie Brown were tripping out at the Bodhi Tree metaphysical bookstore, saw the Father Yod/YaHoWha 13 book, and he just contacted us, in the midst of all of this. Devendra Banhart is another one — he had already been in contact with Sky Saxon. There’s just so many outrageous coincidences, you might say, but not by accident. Really, there’s some organic thing going on here."

YAHOWHA 13 Thurs/18, 8 p.m., $16–$20. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. (415) 522-0333,

Demon Days without end


Like science fiction, techno can elicit automatic cringes when dropped as a descriptor in mixed company. Haters give explanations that aren’t really explanations — much like vocabulary that doesn’t add up to an argument: it’s repetitive, boring, either icy and alienating or overblown and dramatic, frequently both at once. It’s a weird scene. They seem to use drugs in a way that’s both corny-sensual and ego-destroying. Ironically — though, in our irony-saturated discourse, the word may be redundant — with the arrival of digital ubiquity, techno is remarkable not for its insistence on a placeless, distanceless future, but on space, duration, history, and a certain quality of experience and memory that seems purged from the hyper-compressed torrent of pre-nostalgized bloghouse jams.

You can’t say Carl Craig’s name without the word "techno" slipping out of your mouth. As part of Detroit’s second wave of techno producers, he refined and extended the future-shock innovation of Juan Atkins’ and Richard Davis’ work as Cybotron under a number of monikers. Now an expat living in Berlin, Craig most recently released — under his own name and excluding this year’s remix compilation, Sessions (Studio !K7) — 1997’s More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art on his own Planet E label. Demon Days, a roving club night that Craig has been hosting since 2005 with New York’s DJ Gamall — better known as the guy who runs PR agency Backspin and a former member of Genesis P-Orridge’s postindustrial pranksters Psychic TV — offers a partial explanation of what else he’s been up to in the interim.

Even if Craig had remained silent after the release of More Songs instead of cranking out remixes and collaborations, his reputation would be secure: neither dance music nor trad techno, its tracks build and decay with patience and attention to nuance that’s still unlike anything this side of Berlin’s Basic Channel. And like that group’s work, More Songs‘ futurism hasn’t curdled into camp, and its moods are still penetrable, if odd at first. Despite the abundance of paramilitary imagery in 1990s techno — a tradition that traces back to Throbbing Gristle’s marriage of brutality and abject satire, an early influence on both Craig and Gamall — the album’s cover art literally explicates Craig’s vision of revolution as a basically a mental one. It’s unmistakably a home-listening record, much like this year’s Deutsche Grammophon-approved Recomposed, which appropriately finds Craig collaborating with Basic Channel’s Moritz Von Oswald, reworking orchestral pieces by Ravel and Mussorgsky into tentative, if fleetingly brilliant, new configurations that exist somewhere between minimal techno and the classical minimalism of Steve Reich, Terry Riley, et al.

Little if any of this material is likely to make it into Craig’s or Gamall’s set, which will probably highlight electro-historical bangers, their own remixes, and forthcoming releases from Planet E. But considering the general availability of the means of electronic music production — your cracked Ableton Live setup or the Roland TR-303 bass synth you downloaded to your iPhone — the fact that these guys know how pacing, thoughtfulness, and lineage inform, rather than detract, from body-rocking, their sets should act as a reminder. That is to say, you can come to engage with the tradition within techno that remains autonomous from the auto-nostalgic, meta-authentic economy of bloghouse/indie — or you can come to just dance.

This is electro music without hipster runoff’s signature, meaning-void stamp, "///miss u//." The omissions in their sets, not to mention an utter lack of MP3s, should be enough to make you think twice before unloading another mash-up on the world or listening to Justice’s wack Fabric mix. There is another world, people, and while it doesn’t escape being flawed, stupid, and fatally self-conscious like the indie-bred one that seems to control the Internet, you can at least pour your enthusiasms into this one without worrying about backlash. (Brandon Bussolini)


With Carl Craig, Space Time Continuum, and Gamall

Thurs/11, 10 p.m., $14 advance


444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880

Wow wow wow wow


› a&

Kevin Killian is an inveterate and unapologetic collaborator: even when writing solo, there’s always another presence. Whether he ventriloquizes through this other, or assimilates or deconstructs it is the reader’s call, and it’s a difficult one to make. The poems in Killian’s most recent book of poetry, Action Kylie (In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni, 128 pages, $15) are places where T.S. Eliot’s cats LOL, Antonio Banderas anagrams to "no brains on a date," and Kylie Minogue’s derivativeness is more compelling than genius. In the process, Killian sinks probes into public-celebrity exchanges that increasingly substitute for news. On the eve of the book’s upcoming release party, I spoke with him about Kylie, Amazon reviews, and Ted Berrigan’s Pepsi addiction.

SFBG When I first saw you in person, I noticed that you were drinking Diet Pepsi. Pepsi is also mentioned in the book, Kylie having been a Pepsi spokesperson. And there’s a video from a band called Ssion, a cover of the Young Marble Giants song "Credit in the Straight World," that starts with the singer drinking from a Pepsi can. So I’ve kind of had Pepsi on the brain. Didn’t Kylie do a Pepsi ad and get shit for it?

Kevin Killian Yeah, at a low point in her career she did a terrifying ad for Pepsi in Australia. In it, she’s on TV in a sexy video and a young boy, like 11 or 12, is watching. He opens a Pepsi, and she’s there in his bedroom, sitting on his lap, and is really tastelessly grinding into him. That video was too raw to be shown very widely. It wasn’t classy — what can I say?

SFBG Since the cola wars are over, I was wondering if there was some sort of cachet to Pepsi.

KK It was Ted Berrigan’s favorite drink. I didn’t know him, but I saw him a few times, and he guzzled it down. He would get a little antsy if he didn’t see a quart of it somewhere nearby.

SFBG There seems to be a kind of split between Action Kylie‘s first three sections, which are explicitly focused on Kylie as a subject, and the last four, where her relationship to the writing is less obvious.

KK The book was written roughly chronologically, and I guess my sense of her was so deep — it’s part of my identity now — that she’s in it equally all the way through. I’m thinking of incidents, circumstances, apparitions of her that maybe aren’t visible to you in those later poems.

SFBG The Action Kylie essay "Kylie Evidence" and the huge number of Amazon reviews you’ve authored collapse a lot of different registers. They’re not exactly straight criticism, or uncomplicatedly ironic. There’s a strange cacophony in the way they’re constructed, going from Wikipedia-style omniscience to something intensely personal. When you identify with Kylie as a "second- or third-rate talent," it’s hard not to feel like you’re giving yourself short shrift, because that kind of writing does something that’s pretty rare to both "creative" writing and journalism or criticism.

KK It wasn’t really a way of fishing for reinforcement, but I realize that’s what it does. I had spent years and years writing about Jack Spicer [resulting in the 1998 biography Poet, Be Like God] and seeing his status change from a kind of cult figure into [an element of] the canon. When I started writing [2001’s] Argento Series, few knew [Dario] Argento; now everybody does. There’s something about the situation of the cult figure that’s always exasperated me. I don’t like it, for some reason. I couldn’t figure out why.

When I started working on Kylie Minogue, I was drawn to her because she was a figure who seemed to me, at this one moment in 1998 or 1999, to have absolutely no talent. You know, she had something, but she had no talent, at all, period. And it’s the same old story: she is fabulous, it just took me a while to understand how. But it was a great period to be a fan. I think my essay was written in that tone.

SFBG Your Amazon reviews could be a conceptual project. Some of the lines are really killer, such as your description of Joe Jonas’ eyebrows being "like crow feathers — feathers from a 600-pound crow."

KK Well, when you do something every day … I had written about a thousand [reviews] before I realized that was an enormous number. I’d write three or four a day, and sometimes they’d be in themes: I’d pick up a dictionary and see a word — "midnight" is one I remember. I’d realize I knew a lot about books with "midnight" in the title — or movies, or records — so I would just do 40 of them, all about midnight. Maybe here or there there’d be something I actually didn’t read.

SFBG I wanted to ask about the Kylie lyrics that preface your book, "These are the dreams of an impossible princess."

KK It comes from an actual LP called Impossible Princess (Deconstruction, 1998). She took the name from Billy Childish, who had a book of poetry called Dreams of an Impossible Princess.

I’m having a book out next summer from City Lights, and it’s called Impossible Princess. It’s impossible for me to be a princess because I’m a man, beyond everything else, and there’s that kind of futility, that ambition to be something other than what you are, that drove her, and that drove me, I guess. Every year you’re alive, you’ll see some possibilities diminishing behind you, things you’ll never be. The good thing is, new windows open up, things you never thought you’d want. I never thought I’d write about Kylie Minogue, and what’s worse is that I can’t stop writing about her, either.


Sun/14, 6:30 p.m., $5

21 Grand

415 25th St., Oakl.

(510) 444-7263



PREVIEW In his recent profile of Steven Ellison, better known as Flying Lotus, The New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones goes out of his way to avoid dropping the "lazer bass" bomb. Which makes sense: it’s a term he jokingly and publicly coined on his blog to describe a geographically dispersed "affinity group" whose music seems to have both everything and nothing to do with hip-hop circa 2008, and he’s gotten some shit for it. Here’s where we rely on Daly City’s Mochipet — David Y. Wang, if you’re feeling friendly — to clarify things. Whether looking back over his six-year discography or just dealing with the songs on his MySpace profile, it’s easy to imagine traces of any major electronic production style of the last decade — from ADD-afflicted IDM to Baltimore’s stuttering club thump or early-aughts mash-ups — but there isn’t much settled or comfortably historical about the MIDI controller-ized way the genres and references are seamlessly slurred together and stretched taut over heavy syncopation.

As that joke genre passes from lark to an articulated set of formal rules, it may turn out that Mochipet is not part of the clique that includes folks like Ellison, Hudson Mohawke, and SF’s future blappers Lazer Sword. In songs like "Sharp Drest" from this year’s Microphonepet (Daly City), however, Mochipet is indisputably one in intention with these artists, producing tracks that bang so hard they cause involuntary dancing, and bass blurps that seem to filter through your sternum before reaching your eardrums. Pretty tuff stuff for a guy named after squishy stuff, especially since he so often performs in an infantilizing purple dinosaur suit.
MOCHIPET With Return to Mono, the Flying Skulls, and Anon Day. Wed/10, 8 p..m., $5–$8. Red Devil Lounge, 1695 Polk, SF. (415) 921-1695,