Brandon Bussolini

Torch songs


› a&

In the best promo photo for Sébastien Tellier’s third album, Sexuality (Record Makers), he sits in a shaft of light before a piano, his ever-present fitover sunglasses pushed up on the crown of his head, and a burnished gold hand rests on the shoulder of his Members Only jacket. Hovering over his left shoulder is a blank, benevolent casque belonging to the album’s producer, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo — one half of Daft Punk. It’s a silly scene of symbolic torch-passing. Outside of France, Daft Punk’s role as a synecdoche for modern French pop as a whole has previously only been played by Serge Gainsbourg, and imagining the Jesus-like Tellier trying to fill out Gainsbourg’s Repetto footwear and the Punks’ Gap khakis simultaneously is awkward.

At points, Sexuality makes that mantle fit better. The recording starts with "Roche," its gently slapping rhythm and Moroder-esque synth-sequencing mimicking the Biarritz surf Tellier conjures as he sings, "Je sens la chaleur de l’été / C’est ahh, c’est ahh." After tackling family and politics with his debut, L’incroyable vértité (2001), and his still-more-ambitious Politics (2005), respectively, Sexuality is Tellier’s latest go at finding what he calls a "master subject." The challenge here has nothing to do with taboo, but instead with how to approach such a massive topic without parroting the clichés that make it possible to talk about it in the first place.

In terms of pacing and mood, much of Sexuality stays with the tight knot of anticipation that forms in your gut before foreplay or even making out. De Homem-Christo is a light touch, and his main purpose is to keep Tellier from plunging into the masturbatory. Even if nothing here attempts to encompass the whole of human experience as Tellier’s "La Ritournelle" did, the album’s greatness is sublimated and spread out over its 11 tracks — plenty of time to warm up your lover, with no dips in concentration.

As with everything else on the full-length, "Roche" is nothing if not paced: the drum programming in particular has a Cartesian precision to it and the sounds are arranged in rational space. Having little to do with the labyrinthine wind-ups of Modeselektor’s Eurocrunk beats and none of the oversize, bitcrushed rock kits in Justice’s arsenal, Tellier seems to be working within another decade’s technological limitations — the results, if not always sexy, feel somehow closer to the mood, texture, and pace of actual sex.

More than half a dozen listens into the disc, the lyrics have already given up on revealing themselves as narrative or typically poetic. The meaning is only half there on a song like closer "L’amour et la violence," with the words’ other halves rolling off into pink steam over roiling classical arpeggios. With few established roles and nothing resembling an erotic scenario, Sexuality‘s bi-curious Franco-Teutonic funk is not quite enough to establish sensuousness and romance in brains scorched by the general availability of hardcore porn and its imaginary, but it’s one of the best places we can start. *


With Hearts Revolution, Lilofee, and DJ sets by Black Shag, BT Magnum, and Safety Scissors

Thurs/4, doors 9 p.m., $15 advance


444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880



PREVIEW Shwayze would be impossible without reality TV, not only because Buzzin’, their own MTV vehicle, gives them the kind of exposure that YouTube, a place where music videos still circulate, couldn’t. Rather, the music on their self-titled Suretone/Geffen debut is about and of Los Angeles in a way that wasn’t thinkable before that form of programming legitimated some of the city’s embarrassingly tired clichés. Apply the sentiments of either of the Malibu duo’s charting singles — "Corona and Lime" and "Buzzin’" — to mainstream music during the early Bush administration, and you get Crazy Town’s "Butterfly" with an insanely pungent dash of LFO’s "Summer Girls." Not much new here, but the setting for these affectless feelings at least can finally be revealed.

What makes the duo feel current, if far from compelling, is that LA plays itself in their music, in a similar way the town stands for itself in, say, the Cobrasnake’s fake-real candids. From hook man Cisco Adler’s feather-weight, momentum-less production style — the template he figured out on Mickey Avalon’s "Jane Fonda" — to Shwayze’s max-relax loverman toasting, all their too-baked-for-love mellowship jams deliver some combination of the same three pieces of information: 1) girls in LA are probably the best ever; 2) there are a lot of parties in Malibu, and shit is laidback; 3) even if you’re broke, if you have weed, it’s chill — you can still hook up with girls.

Image-wise, Adler and Shwayze embody Urban Outfitters realness with a Pineapple Express sense of brofessionalism: both wear skinny jeans, slightly oversize tees, and high-tops, but Adler’s fedora and wayfarers tell us he’s the rock guy, while Shwayze’s cocked baseball hat tell us he’s the rapper dude. Lyrically, Schwayze’s concerned exclusively with girls — they talk about "girls" so much it’s hard not to imagine they’ve fallen in love with the word as a floating signifier. But watch a video and there they are, the word made flesh and Lycra.

SHWAYZE With Cisco Adler, DJ Skeet Skeet, and Krista. Sat/29, 8 p.m., $16.50. Grand Ballroom at the Regency Center, Van Ness and Sutter, SF. (415) 421-TIXS,

Icy Demons


PREVIEW There’s liberatory potential in choosing a pseudonym, but the members of Chicago-area septet Icy Demons — Blue Hawaii, Pow Pow, Il-Cativo, Smart Cousin, Yo! Hannan, Monsieur Jeri, and the Diminisher — are probably just goofballs. Icy Demons are the sort of band whose surface weirdness is accompanied by both pop smarts and something fundamentally warped. What makes this trickier: their three albums, culminating in last year’s Miami Ice (Obey Your Brain), have inched toward accessibility while also housing some of the group’s most fully realized songs. While it’s tempting to say that Icy Demons are basically a pop combo that have clawed their way out of the slightly hazy, motorik groove of 2006’s Tears of a Clone (Eastern Developments) and 2003’s Fight Back! (Cloud Recordings), why not say that the inverse is true, that they’re a basically experimental ensemble using pop structure to vehiculate some of their best ideas?

However you choose to read them, Icy Demons are part of an emerging scene with unexpected roots and strange allegiances, centered on the Obey Your Brain label: core member Pow Pow plays drums for hokey Philly alt-bros Man Man, and the Diminisher and Blue Hawaii were involved in Bablicon, the Elephant 6–affiliated improv trio. But Icy Demons have less to do with those bands’ well-established aesthetics than with a natively skewed sense of tunefulness and music that seems to disappear between reference points. Miami Ice‘s "Spywatchers" hovers in the interzone between spy movie music and spacey post-rock, and the title track sounds like Brian Eno took the Paper Rad crew to Florida for a vacation of self-discovery. As for the rest of the transcript of what Icy Demons are up to, intuition suggests they will only reveal it a peek at a time.

ICY DEMONS With Yeasayer. Sat/22, 9 p.m., $15. Bimbo’s 365 Club, 1025 Columbus, SF. (415) 474-0365,

Holiday Guide 2008: Seasonal sounds



Thanks to the continued explosion of musically-oriented Web sites and blogs, you’ll probably be even more inundated than usual this year with "best of 2008" lists come January 2009 — far too late for your tuneful shopping needs. So we’re cranking one out early, organized by affinity groups — some slightly imaginary, some more concrete — in an attempt to cut through the loud hype and scattered bombast while amping up your gift-giving options. At the end is a suggested list of delectable upcoming live shows, if you’re more ticket-oriented.


Electronic music is a good example of how griping about the state of a scene can sometimes release unexpected creativity. Syclops, nominally a Finnish fusion trio, is the latest we’ve heard from Maurice Fulton since his quasi-breakthrough electro-spazz project Mu. I’ve Got My Eye on You is the longest in a line of pretty epic wins for the label DFA and for electronic music generally: radiating out from "Where’s Jason’s K," the 10 tracks that make up the album tear ass from pharma’d-out Detroit techno to dreamy, lush deep space jazz.

Also: Shed‘s Shedding the Past (Ostgut Tonträger) if your giftee’s the type who longs for the halcyon days of high minimal glitch; Nôze, Songs on the Rocks (Get Physical) if his or her affection for tech house precision is matched only by a love of closing-time sing-alongs and Waitsian growls.


It would be hard to write enough about "Black Rice," the best song on Canadian indie quartet Women‘s self-titled debut on Jagjaguwar. Starting from an absurdly unambitious guitar line, the song blossoms into something wildly and fiercely beautiful. It could be the impossible falsetto of the chorus, or the way the rhythm section comes unglued from the vocals and guitar, but the song condenses what makes the rest of the album — noisy, lo-fi interludes and all — so engaging. Everything seems held together provisionally on a song like the heartrending "Shaking Hand," but the chorus snaps into place with rubber-banded eagerness.

Also: Abe Vigoda‘s Skeleton (PPM) for its irrepressible youthful longing and controlled thrash; Benoît Pioulard‘s Temper (Kranky) for twining the threads of noise and surprisingly pretty, almost adult-contemporary songwriting into a neither/nor album that’s perfect for gray days.


Although more structured than anything they’ve done before, Saint Dymphna (Social Registry), the newest long player from New York’s mystical vibe crew Gang Gang Dance, still arrives packed with the otherworldliness that characterized its excellent predecessor, God’s Money (Social Registry, 2005). Three years in the making, the album itself is nothing if not well paced: the transitions between songs and the gradual build of rhythmic energy make it less kin to trad rock albums than to DJ mixes. When the swells crest, as on "First Communion" and "House Jam," electronic gurgles and processed sounds that might otherwise sound like trying too hard are transformed into pure pith: they’re as inviting and faceted as a just-split pomegranate.

Also: Paavoharju‘s Laulu Laakson Kukista (Fonal), since these Finnish folksters cover the dance floor with silt on "Kevätrumpu," bust some desperate torch techno on "Uskallan," and spend a number of other tracks sounding stuck between pagan classical radio and deteriorating field recordings; Rings is a trio of new primitives formerly known as First Nation — on Black Habit (Paw Tracks), the outfit sounds like it’s gotten into the Slits’ basements and started making music dictated from beyond.


A DJ mix that stands alone as an album is a rare thing, but leave it to Jace Clayton, a.k.a. DJ/rupture, to make one, as he has with Uproot (Agriculture). Deeply, er, rooted in the bass plate tectonics of dubstep and cut with the finest in eclectic samples, ranging from experimentalist Ekkehard Ehlers to lazer bass don Ghislain Poirier, Uproot rolls deep with dubbed-out ambience, but DJ/rupture is just as happy to turn things upside down, as when he plunks down Ehlers’ gorgeous string loop, "Plays John Cassavetes, Pt. 2," around the mix’s halfway point. And if bangers of the future don’t sound like "Gave You All My Love (Matt Shadetek’s I Gave You All My Dub Remix)," which subs out dub’s organic space for Fisher-Price primary-color contrasts that split the brain evenly in two, I’m not sure it’s a future worth living in.

Also: for the more historically minded, Ragga Twins have released Step Out! (Soul Jazz), a retrospective that collects the work of a duo widely considered to be the inventors of that dubstep ancestor, jungle; Tank Thong Mixtape (Weaponshouse) by Megasoid happens to be free, so spend some money on a nice CD-R, decorate it with glitter, and watch exasperation turn to glee when your loved one blows out his or her speakers with this beast.


One of the year’s most life-affirming releases comes from a band called Fucked Up; its Chemistry of Common Life (Matador) is grounded in hardcore, and has hardness to spare, but makes its biggest impact when it lets a flute solo emerge from the tempest. With his basso profundo growl, singer Pink Eyes can sound like he’s gargling hot dogs, and harnessed to a song like "Black Albino Bones," with its cooing melody — the closest thing to pop the seven-year-old band has attempted — it makes for an unexpectedly moving juxtaposition. But the group’s real skill comes from mining the void left after the tribal affiliations of high school fall away; "Twice Born"<0x2009>‘s refrain, "Hands up if you think you’re the only one," could be the year’s Miranda July–esque rallying cry.

Also: if you’re wondering what Mick Barr’s been up to post-Ocrilim, the short answer, witnessed on Krallice‘s Krallice (Profound Lore) is black metal; Peasant (Level Plane), an all-encompassing slab of darkness by Baton Rouge–based Thou, is closer to trad sludge than to the transcendent drone of Sunn 0))), but no less impressively bleak.


The holiday season is not always a great time for shows (other than several Nutcracker incarnations), but for folks who want to gift live music this year there are plenty of sonic distractions. On the heels of Everybody (Thrill Jockey), its latest bout of sophisticated jazz rock, the eternally springlike Sea and Cake will make an appearance at Great American Music Hall just in time to counteract your seasonal affective disorder (Dec. 2, 8 p.m., $20). Sebastien Tellier rolls with the Daft Punk posse, so it’s no surprise that his music marries spot-on genre mimicry and a native sense of melody; check out the video for "Divine," in which the Beach Boys–meet–Lio jam turns into a global karaoke marathon of Tellier doppelgängers (Mezzanine, Dec. 4, 9 p.m., $15). There’s no rest for local workhorses Tussle and Jonas Reinhardt — they’ll be bringing their peculiar hot-cold takes on krauty electronics to the Hemlock Tavern (Dec. 6, 9:30 p.m., $7). And even if her music is not your cup of tea, Aimee Mann’s 3rd Annual Christmas Show should be a nice shot of seasonality in a city that tends to avoid big displays of Christmas spirit; consider it a good sign that Patton Oswalt, the stand-up comedian most deserving of your attention, will take part (Bimbo’s, Dec. 7, 8 p.m., $40). His looks call to mind a peripheral character from The Catcher in the Rye, and his preternaturally gentle music is specially designed not to hurt babies’ ears, but the earnest beauty of Jonathan Richman‘s songs might pierce your heart (Great American Music Hall, Dec. 7, 8 p.m., $15). Bearing a post-hardcore pedigree like whoa, San Francisco’s own Crime in Choir moves gracefully beyond its members’ backgrounds — At the Drive-In, the Fucking Champs — into (surprise!) instrumental prog territory (Hemlock Tavern, Dec. 13, 9:30 p.m., $6). *

Click here for more Holiday Guide 2008.

Lucky Dragons


PREVIEW Los Angeles’ Lucky Dragons make music that’s not very musical: many of the sounds Luke Fishbeck and Sara Rara use could come from faked field recordings or electronic noodling, and these ethnographic forgeries are further subjected to intense sampling that reduces the sense of space or regular pacing that usually marks sounds as music in our brains. Still, listening to the chirping, loop-happy compositions found on the pair’s recent album, Dream Island Laughing Language (Marriage), without the aid of Fishbeck’s peculiar brand of new-primitive modern dance or the duo’s stuttering, gentle videos, you only get part of the story.

Lucky Dragons don’t make music to prove that making music is foolish or to exaggerate its narcissism. Their work is radical because it encourages connections between show-goers over the standard-issue connection between a band and their creation and the audience’s emotions. Lucky Dragons’ music may convey a sense of pastoralism, but it works here as a conduit for a futuristic kind of sociability, upsetting the standard band–audience interaction by establishing fragile, temporary human networks that stand in stark contrast to obligatory social networks.

If there were a way to describe the disarming piece that YouTube calls "Make a Baby" without getting into technical details, it would go something like this: in the middle of a rock concert, you suddenly find yourself on the floor with strangers, touching their skin, creating shorts and flows that change the course of a fizzing, neon synth drone. When I saw Lucky Dragons perform at 21 Grand last year, I remember the tentative then bold ways kids’ bodies inched towards each other, this organic sculptural mass of flesh and fabric and finally, at the end, the way those bodies unstuck from one another, not unsweetly and not without some regret. You came to receive and ended up creating, came to stay in your bubble and ended up drawn into a strangely open, nascent community.

LUCKY DRAGONS With Hecuba and Pit Er Pat. Sun/16, 9 p.m., $10. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. (415) 923-0923, Also with Hecuba, Pit Er Pat, and Chen Santa Maria. Mon/17, 8 p.m., check site for price. Lobot Gallery, 1800 Campbell, Oakl.

Alice Russell


PREVIEW When I see the name Alice Russell, I think first of Alice Coltrane and Arthur Russell before I think of this Brighton, UK, blue-eyed soul revivalist. And I’m aware that this may unfairly predispose me to her music, which is not without its charms.

The two other major UK soul vocalists to make an impact stateside, Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse, arrived as self-generating publicity machines whose public images matched their respective styles. In contrast, Russell’s music is up without being overtly rebellious. The posturing’s explicitly enthusiastic, without the attack of Winehouse or the reggae-pop concision of Allen, on Russell’s fourth LP, and first bid for a wider audience, Pot of Gold (Six Degrees/Little Poppet), which are at their best and most unique on songs like "Let Us Be Loving," which stitches together a dubby, tumbling rhythm and gives Russell some space disco ethereality.

But the album also has moments of superfluity. I don’t get the sense that Russell felt compelled to cover Gnarls Barkley’s "Crazy" because she could coax some radical reading of it. Instead, it’s plunked down in the disc’s otherwise-decent closing stretch, as if another anchor wouldn’t do a better job of giving listeners a sense of how Russell stands apart from the nu-soul pack. In this light, it’s hard not to see nu-soul as a rockist backlash against the perceived inauthenticity of nu-rave, which ultimately isn’t inauthentic enough to bother anyone.

ALICE RUSSELL Mon/10, 9 p.m., $15. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. (415) 771-1421,

Devin the Dude


PREVIEW: When the Mayan apocalypse hits in 2012, Devin the Dude will have been at this rap stuff for two decades. Although the new Landing Gear (Razor and Tie) is the fifth solo album he’s released since 1998, it’s the first since 2007’s Waitin’ to Inhale (Rap-a-Lot) upgraded his status from "underground rapper" to "underground rapper people know about." With hip-hop shrinking proportionally to the idea of a mainstream, it’s the right time for a rapper like the Dude to emerge: he’s from Houston, and the tracks have less syrupy roll than crate-digger haze, less of UGK’s hard-assed shit-talk and more chuckling self-deprecation.

Like its predecessors, Landing Gear isn’t "conscious" hip-hop. Devin’s priorities on the recording are, in order, getting high, getting over heartbreak, and getting laid. That said, musically, a corner of the disc is dipped in the same juice that Erykah Badu’s year-making New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War (Motown) stews in: check the subtle earbud phase and Garageband multitrack cooing on the sleazeball come-on "Let Me Know It’s Real." If there’s a difference between Landing Gear and Waitin’ to Inhale, it’s the latter’s willingness to go places the former doesn’t. Revenge fantasy "Just Because," off Waitin’, is as funny as it is disturbing. And the fact that Devin doesn’t exempt himself of responsibility for his fantasies makes it compelling. Landing Gear isn’t any less vivid in approaching similar feelings, though alongside "I Don’t Chase Em" an obligatory bid for airplay the stakes feel smaller. But that’s just fine. Devin still has a couple releases before the apocalypse.

DEVIN THE DUDE Wed/29, 9 p.m., $18. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. (415) 255-0333,

What’s Up


PREVIEW Post-hardcore is as straightforward as it sounds: the bands that hardcore musicians started that drew on a broader range of music beyond the self-imposed limitations of hard ‘n’ fast. After those bands imploded or stagnated, new groups emerged to incorporate influences from so-called world music and the fringes of contemporary classical, making for a helping of instrumental, textural artists on the one hand (Black Dice), and hyper-technical indie rockers on the other (Dirty Projectors).

What’s Up, however, is that rare thing: a technical instrumental band with lots of feeling. When I tell keyboardist-guitarist Robby Moncrieff by phone that I sense a lot of positive energy in the way the music is packed with bright, run-on melodies, he replies, "It comes from just being fed up with how things were going in town in a sense." "Town" is Sacramento, though Moncrieff, drummer Teddy Briggs, and bassist Brian Marshall recently relocated to Portland, Ore. "Sacramento’s got a great little underground thing going on, but it’s too small to support itself," Moncrieff continues. "There’s a lot of moral support, and it’s a great starting point, but it’s hard to try to grow there."

What’s Up is prepping to drop its first LP, Content Imagination, on Chicago’s upstart Obey Your Brain label in the spring. Although people might hear traces of Moncrieff’s work in 8-bit interpreters the Advantage, this band is a different beast. Briggs’ and Marshall’s solid, lurching rhythm section gives plenty of space for Moncrieff’s hyperactive, distorted keyboards to turn out melodies that shimmer for a moment before contradicting themselves. If there’s a signature What’s Up track so far, it’s "Harper’s Introduction." There’s something in the way the melody rides on the dirty keyboard bounce and the jerking rhythm of the drums and shaker that makes it seem like it could be some of the best beach music ever.

WHAT’S UP Fri/24, 8 p.m., call for price. Red Door Gallery 371 11th St., SF. (415) 652-4054. Also with Zach Hill, Oaxacan, and Religious Girls. Sat/25, 8:30 p.m., call for price. 21 Grand, 416 25th St., Oakl. (510) 444-7263,

Live bait



Thirty-something British band Wire secured its place in rock history with three soberly brilliant LPs released in the late 1970s. Born Ruffians, a much younger Canadian combo, gets steady attention despite having only two uneven releases under their belt. Both groups will be playing likely well-attended shows this week, to audiences who either cut their post-punk teeth on Wire’s Chairs Missing (Harvest, 1979) or got really into Born Ruffians’ Red Yellow and Blue (Warp) since its release eight months ago. As different as these outfits appear, something about the expectations hovering around their shows seems to call for a slight recalibration of the rock-crit machine — what people are going to these shows for might not be what they actually hear. Even if you don’t read the reviews and haven’t scoped the scenes, someone lodged inside the Web marketing machine has done it for you. The more dimly aware you are of it, the better it works.

And this is what bothered me about Born Ruffians. I like Red Yellow and Blue fine, but before I’d even managed to really hear the band, I’d been blitzed with ancillary information. These three Torontonians, led by a thin, raw nerve of a man named Luke LaLonde, play a jangly form of indie with lots of off-mic huddle-chants — something like a summer camp take on Animal Collective’s harmonizing. In a way, the critical air support that followed the LP release seemed premeditated, hard-pressed to point out anything really compelling beyond a checklist of standard genre tropes. Still, listening to the album later, I was surprised that, while longing gets mentioned, nobody else noticed that it’s the engine of the music. Which can make even their best songs, like the scribbly "Hummingbird," a bit of a painful listen — not because they’re not afraid to look like fools, but because it cuts too close to the raw experience. Born Ruffians don’t dwell on pain as much as they let it seep in, an approach that makes me want to run at first but resolves into something modestly beautiful.

Wire, on the other hand, is in the unique position that even their most dedicated fans haven’t listened to the bulk of their discography. Their latest full-length is called Object 47 (Pink Flag) because it’s the 47th thing they’ve released. Wire’s initial trilogy — Pink Flag (Harvest, 1977), Chairs Missing, and 154 (Harvest, 1979) — remain the high-water mark against which they’re judged, and rightfully so: they invented a formal vocabulary for punk and rock in a hugely inspired fit of art school imagination. Yet one doesn’t get the feeling that anyone who has bothered to listen to their releases since then has actually heard anything other than a lack of those three albums, or subtle tweaks on the fecund language they opened up. The most interesting qualities of Wire’s recent recordings have little to do with their early shirt-and-tie experimentalism. Object 47‘s linchpin is "One of Us," a sweet pink heartbreak confection whose compassion is miles off from "The 15th"’s relationship semiotics.

All of which is to say that both concerts are worth going to for reasons that have little to do with the narratives swirling around each group. It shouldn’t be too difficult to let go of the stories anchoring these bands and experience them as something both more and less than the sum of their facts. *


Wed/15, 9 p.m., $8

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455


Wed/15, 8 p.m., $25


1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-6000



› a&

REVIEW Whether you admired his fierce intelligence or considered him a negative influence on the young, you have to admit that David Foster Wallace was one of the few contemporary writers who managed to pin down and unpack questions of writerly narcissism and grasp their implications. The McSweeney’s brand owes its greatest debt to Wallace. Young librarian Scott Douglas’s bildungsromanesque Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian (Da Capo Press, 352 pages, $25) would not exist without his influence: it’s an outgrowth of Douglas’s column for the McSweeney’s Web site, and it embodies what younger writers find so seductive in Wallace’s digressive, footnote-heavy writing style.

Quiet, Please chronicles Douglas’s experiences working in an Anaheim public library, a site in the shadow of Disneyland. Once you set aside the obligatory librarian jokes, this setting promises the kind of collisions absent from corporate offices: it’s a place where wastrel romance novels live feet away from Gravity’s Rainbow, where the very old and very young bide their time, in the mystery stacks and on the Internet, respectively. Douglas’s book isn’t particularly descriptive, though, and despite being a kind of memoir, its autobiography is fuzzy. Its confusion about genre is where the conversion from the Web to the page becomes a problem. Douglas fractures the surface of his story, but his attempts to make the tangents cohere often prevent the book from finding a consistent pace. The thin narrative thread that follows Douglas from library page to accredited librarian gets snowed under by unnecessary footnotes and what he deems "short pointless interludes" — factoids intended to break up the monotony of, er, paying attention. The mildly condescending, conversational tone of these commercial breaks highlights Douglas’s ambivalence toward writing the book: a perceived need to convince the reader that he or she is getting more than just a Web-groomed, self-reflexive story battles with the author’s own doubts about a lack of content. Those doubts largely turn out to be valid.

For a long time, I thought a career as a librarian was a foregone conclusion: during high school I was a regular at San Jose’s Almaden Branch Library, a suburban place not unlike the library in the book, and without that formative experience I wouldn’t have found out about Emil Nolde or Paul Klee or Kurt Vonnegut or T.S. Eliot when I needed them. The lack of any real emotional connection to libraries or convincing description of them as portals to different, better worlds are two things that keep Quiet, Please from gaining real relevance beyond its narrow scope. Douglas’s attempts to get at something bigger than the boredom of work (and his attempts to capture that boredom) suffer from a lack of convincing detail. The author’s frequent digressions — he spends a grip of pages early on pontificating about the impact of 9/11 — often come off as obligatory rather than the byproduct of an extremely curious mind.

But where Quiet, Please suffers most is in its self-policed tone. Douglas, one imagines, has deep pockets full of stories about eccentric library regulars, but they’re painted with all the imaginative gusto of a term paper on deadline and hastily capped with showy compassion. The book also clearly positions itself, in part, as a satirical bureaucratic romp, but his toughest critique involves describing the head of his library science program as a "bitch." Online, Douglas’s column had a certain charm; on paper, it’s simply a matter of dull obligation for the author, to say nothing of the reader. *

Hawnay Troof


PREVIEW When I think of Hawnay Troof after listening to approximately one-half of his first full-length, Islands of Ayle (Southern/Retard Disco), the cover of the Geto Boys’ We Can’t Be Stopped (Rap-A-Lot, 1991) comes to mind. I might have found out about the image — Bushwick Bill just forced his girlfriend to shoot him, and he’s in a gurney that the other dudes in the group are pushing down a hospital corridor — from Vice magazine. Does that mean it’s not a legit memory? I struggle with this sometimes, but listening to Islands of Ayle renders it moot. It’s bursting with a sort of straight-ahead energy that only has room for the present moment.

The man behind Hawnay Troof is Oaklander Vice Cooler. He was in this band called XBXRX, which was notorious for a lot of reasons, including originally being from Mobile, Ala., and being initially mostly high-school age. If you’ve followed the group’s career, you’re probably not surprised that Hawnay Troof makes the kind of confessional, but not self-pitying, music he does. The backdrop to Cooler’s stream-of-feeling flows is a suitably hyperactive strain of Casio-crunk, punctuated with brief, looping interludes that sound something like Nurse with Wound producing for Peaches.

The positivity that makes me happy when I hear Hawnay Troof seems to acknowledge shitty stuff — maybe not shot-in-the-eye bad, but pretty demolishing personally — yet manifests an even stronger will to improve, a reaching out. This seems to proceed directly from Cooler’s experiences: on the southwest leg of his current tour, for example, Cooler and his roadie were pulled over in their Enterprise rental car by Arizona police en route to a show. The vehicle was searched without a warrant, and when the cop discovered the roadie’s license was suspended, he impounded the car, leaving Cooler to finish his dates by U-Haul. Apparently there’s no stopping the performer, though as one of the harder-working men in show business, I’m sure Cooler would appreciate a few more open ears at this show, his last stateside before he heads to the United Kingdom.

HAWNAY TROOF With High Places and Ponytail. Wed/8, 9 p.m., $10. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. (415) 621-4455,



PREVIEW Nachtmystium, Chicago’s premier experimental black metallers, are on their fourth album with Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1 (Century Media). Beyond the surface punning and musical nods to Pink Floyd — "One of These Nights" is the black mirror reflection of "One of These Days" from Meddle (Capitol, 1971) — the Chicago foursome seem to be out to offend the sensibilities of black metal traditionalists with spacious production, electronic scribbles, bluesy solos, and a deeply epic scope. It might be an attempt to escape the pall that their indirect association with NSBM — that’s "national Socialist black metal" or "Nazi metal" to you — temporarily cast on their rising cachet with hipsters (Black Meddle got a Best New Music nod from Pitchfork at the time of its release).

Blake Judd, Jeff Wilson, John Necromancer, and Zack Simmons have gone out of their way to dissociate themselves with politically motivated music, but it’s still tricky territory. In the search for more extreme, more dubiously authentic sounds, where can one find the line in the sand? It’s like seeing a Burzum patch on the Gossip guitarist’s hoodie: that’s not simple irony, accepting something to express a deeper rejection, right? In the case of a band like Nachtmystium, there’s the question of whether its aesthetic is inherently bound up with black metal’s anti-Semitic history, or whether the path it’s pursuing — cutting across classic rock and even classical tropes — messes with the smooth functioning of this equivalence mechanism.

Nachtmystium shares a bill with Wolves in the Throne Room — a band of cooperative-farm-dwelling radical ecologists whose relationship to black metal’s aesthetic/political orientations is more obviously strained, but is equally provocative. Don’t worry — there’s still time to bury your going-out clothes in the earth and arrive at the show smelling like decay.

NACHTMYSTIUM With Wolves in the Throne Room, Saros, and Embers. Sun/12, 8 p.m., $12. Oakland Metro Operahouse, 630 Third St., Oakl.

Manifestos and sodas


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INTERVIEW Joshua Clover is probably just as well known as alter ego jane dark. It’s the pseudonym under which s/he writes sugarhigh! (, which makes equal space for dialectical thinking, pop and country music, and film. I’ve spent time talking with friends about his criticism and his two books of poetry, 2006’s The Totality for Kids (UC Press, 76 pages, $16.95) and 1997’s Madonna anno domini (Louisiana State University Press). On the page and in person, he radiates the kind of information-density that encompasses everything from Gossip Girl to Karl Marx, Taylor Swift to John Ashbery.

Clover grew up in Berkeley, went to school there and graduated, then went to Iowa and graduated, then spent a period as an "indigent, unskilled worker" before the first, extremely limited-run issue of sugarhigh! landed him a job writing for Village Voice and, soon after, Spin. Which he did for a couple of years, until he didn’t like it anymore and began teaching at UC Davis. When I approached him about this Q&A, he — perhaps slightly jokingly — agreed on the condition that we talk about the economy.

SFBG You’ve written about the value-density of art — as the economy has gotten less stable, works from a Damien Hirst or Francis Bacon go for record prices. This makes me think of the value-density of poetry relative to visual art, and what Wittgenstein wrote about poetry not being involved in the "language-game of giving information" that’s connected to the functioning of capitalism. Is poetry’s struggle for a popular audience connected with the fact that it explicitly undermines the structure of capitalism?

JOSHUA CLOVER That’s a very noble way to frame poetry that’s politically righteous — like it can’t be swallowed by the maw of capitalism and spat out. But one of the best-selling books of poetry in the 20th century, Howl by Allen Ginsberg, is an explicitly brutal critique of different kinds of domination, including economic domination.

The sad fact about poetry in the US [today] is not that political poetry cannot be swallowed, but that it can be swallowed quite easily. There are always a couple pages in Poetry magazine set aside for left liberal carping. Poetry is having an event for the 100th anniversary of Filippo Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto, asking various writers to write manifestos to be read at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The obvious irony is that any manifesto worth its salt would be a manifesto against Poetry, the kind of poetry they publish there, their $150 million [donated by Ruth Lilly], and their alliance with MOMA. It’s a lovely museum, but it lives because manifestos died.

We haven’t had many famous manifestos since the great ironic manifesto that is Frank O’Hara’s "Personism" [1959]. The period of famous, powerful, persuasive, well-known manifestos — from 1905 to 1925 or 1930 — was an age of desperate terror and unhappiness at the historical victory of the bourgeoisie. That victory is complete now.

Political poetry is popular in other countries not because America is apathetic or has forgotten how to read poetry, but because those are countries where political closure hasn’t happened, where social relations can change. From the right and the left, there are poets who’ve filled coliseums in Poland in the ’80s or in South America now. If people want politically powerful poetry that’s popular, they have to produce situations of political openness — then poetry that was true all along will have its opportunity to be true on a mass scale.

SFBG Here’s one question I’ve long wanted to ask you: is there any chance of convincing you to write a 33 1/3 book on Cupid & Psyche ’85 (Warner Bros., 1985)?

JC I would think about it. Scritti Politti is truly great and I had the opportunity to spend some time on the phone with Green Gartside. We talked about what you’d expect — Derrida and Hegel. Although the one time I met Keanu Reeves we talked about Schopenhauer, so you’d be surprised who’s smart. If I were to do one of those books, it wouldn’t be about Scritti Politti —

SFBG — [Neneh Cherry’s] Raw Like Sushi (Virgin, 1989)?

JC Wow, that’d be great. Since [Prince’s] Sign o’ the Times (Warner Bros., 1987) has already been done by Michelangelo Matos, I’d try to do Girly Sound, the non-record of demos that Liz Phair made while she was at Oberlin. It circulated as a tape in several different versions. It has some of the songs that later appeared on her first record, Exile in Guyville (Matador, 1993), and other songs that didn’t. It can be reassembled. I’m interested in albums that don’t quite exist, so another possibility would be … is the Guns N’ Roses album called Chinese Arithmetic?

SFBG It’s Chinese Democracy.

JC Chinese Democracy. "Chinese Arithmetic" is an Eric B. and Rakim song. The Guns N’ Roses CD which has been in the offing for 15 years — I think that would be a fun one to write a book about as well.


with Joshua Clover, Jessica Fisher, Troy Jollimore, and Melinda Mellis

Sat/11, 8:30–9:30 p.m.

Latin American Club

3286 22nd St., SF

Does Vampire Weekend suck?


In terms of the Internet music hype cycle, seven months is an eternity. So while last winter the controversy surrounding Vampire Weekend — four mild Columbia alums who make a crowd-pleasing brand of Afro-pop punk — threatened to hold the Web hostage, more recently the discussions of privilege and charges of cultural appropriation that marked the backlash have all but disappeared. The quartet of Ezra Koenig, Chris Baio, Rostam Batmanglij, and Christopher Tomson had managed, albeit briefly and in coded terms, to get indie rockers talking about two subjects they, and Americans in general, tend to talk around: race and class. In anticipation of the group’s performance at Treasure Island, we wanted to recap some critics’ takes on the band’s approach, to get people thinking about the cultural roots of the recent Docksider resurgence.


AFRO-POP CO-OPTERS? The dean of American rock critics — Xgau to you — is unusually crotchety here, drawing on his extensive knowledge of African music to take down every style writers link the band to.

IVY LEAGUERS? Xgau acknowledges it, sure, but he’s got a lot of misconceptions about Afro-pop to correct. He does, however, anticipate the "psychological mechanism" that underpins the whole backlash. Despite everything, Afro-pop sounds happy, and the young are predisposed against upbeat music for its perceived shallowness, whether it comes from the global south or is an effect of Ivy League privilege.

GRACELAND COMPARISON? He drops the G-bomb only to note its ubiquity, then goes on to point out that the South African mbaqanga the Paul Simon album draws on is "much heavier than anything in Vampire Weekend unless you count their punky stuff, which isn’t African at all."

THE JAMS? The piece is really more of a rockcrit corrective than a consideration of VW’s music itself — here and in his later Consumer Guide review of the combo’s debut, he lets Pitchfork‘s Scott Plagenhof fill us in: "off-kilter, upbeat guitar pop," with "not just the touches of African pop but the willingness to use space and let the songs breathe a bit" and "detail-heavy, expressive" lyrics.


AFRO-POP CO-OPTERS? J-Shep recognizes that the conventional critic’s wisdom on the band "focuses on blind Afro-pop jacking and sartorial missteps," but sees the band’s real fault as a kind of essential anal attention to detail, making their songs feel "claustrophobically ordered."

GRACELAND COMPARISON? Namedrops in passing "Graceland rhythms" when describing VW’s blog-breakthrough single, "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" — for Shepherd this affiliation is only slightly more consequential than their strong preference for Oxford shirts.

THE JAMS? The band so repeatedly work over their influences and presentation that eventually there’s "nothing left but space and simplicity and precious little conflict."


AFRO-POP CO-OPTERS? Abebe sets us up with a series of African reference points: "Mansard Roof" ‘s keyboard tone recalls "old West-African pop," Koenig’s guitar has a "clean, natural tone you’d get on a record from Senegal or South Africa." He goes on to implicitly dismiss the idea of appropriation — the outfit plays those suggestive sounds "like indie kids on a college lawn, because they’re not hung up on Africa in the least."

IVY LEAGUERS? "Ivy League" makes a single appearance in the text, evoked as an easy target for haters, but considerations of VW’s education leave a stamp on Abebe’s thinking here: Abebe claims Koenig’s background allows him the insight to "summon up the atmosphere of kids whose parents use "summer" as a verb.

GRACELAND COMPARISON? According to Abebe, Simon "never sounded this exuberant."

THE JAMS? Despite listeners bringing their baggage to the band, it returns "nothing but warm, airy, low-gimmick pop, peppy, clever, and yes, unpretentious."


AFRO-POP CO-OPTERS? This is Harvey’s focus, and he kills it with a supersophisticated reading that manages to reference the classic ethnographic text "The Masai on the Lawn." Ultimately, Harvey’s less worried about VW’s so-called "indie-style colonialism" — from his perspective, the band knows exactly what they’re doing by playing with such charged ideas — than he is about how intentional the provocation is.

IVY LEAGUERS? The blog post — dated a month after the release of the band’s debut single, "Mansard Roof" — makes one mention of this, a good indication of the extent to which the unit’s bio had saturated the blogosphere. Harvey, a graduate student, has the most nuanced understanding of how VW’s privilege inflects their coy performance of "clueless bougie cosmopolitanism."

GRACELAND COMPARISON? Harvey suggests that VW is canny enough not to make "sappy pap that’s impossible to fuck to in your parents’ beach house."

THE JAMS? Harvey’s approach implicitly rejects the blogospheric pressure to confuse what the music means socially with its sonic qualities.

Vampire Weekend plays 5:55 p.m., Sun/21, on the Bridge Stage at the Treasure Island Festival.

Class revolting


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Americans are allowed to talk about class on the condition that we say we are all middle class — never mind if your ‘rents pay for an out-of-state, private college without financial aid, or if you’re a single mom struggling to pay Bay Area rents on service industry wages. Regardless of our assets, we’re all the same if we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, right? So despite capitalism’s emphasis on abstract equivalence, class is at least one area where the bourgies insist on qualities over quantities: "You can have my Horatio Alger narrative when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!"

Thus, comparing Harvard-educated pop duo Chester French to Vampire Weekend because their members seem to have leapt from the same L.L. Bean catalog misses what is genuinely questionable about their act. While neither band ever talks about what their parents do for a living, they both make playing with old-money signifiers a big part of their repertoire. But while Vampire Weekend’s self-described "Upper West Side Soweto" juxtaposes citations of third world pop with symbols of upper-class belonging, that superficial move is at least designed to give the listener pause. The unsubtle doofuses of Chester French mangle their subject matter, driving every obvious detail into the ground. The Zombies-biting power pop of "She Loves Everybody," for example, opens with a shuddering, prim string trio before ditching the classical instruments for well-tempered synths, clean-cut tremolo guitars, and a by-the-books jaded-romance narrative so obvious it’s vaguely insulting to the listener’s intelligence.

Even worse, these bros’ steez stumbles over itself to incorporate high-end, contemporary pop culture, from which VW’s music tends to hold itself aloof. Not that being slightly out of date is inherently superior to being current, but the latter group is at least smart enough to drop its Lil Jon reference four years after "Yeah!" Chester French’s best song — which is still terrible — is the pinched, flimsy "The Jimmy Choo’s" [sic], whose fratboy-with-a-Bret-Easton-Ellis-fetish lyrics clumsily and successfully attempt to pander to the Sex and the City (or is it Gossip Girl?) demographic. Don’t be fooled, though: it’s not class evocation — though they’re pretty bad at making that angle interesting — that makes them especially tiresome. It’s that the Chester French marketing bundle is so clearly designed to float bankrupt songwriting on a pseudo-provocative presentation.

Their ruthlessly calculated niche-marketing conjures up secret pact scenarios with the Wesleyan-affiliated, improbably popular MGMT — "OK, so you guys go for the humanities majors, and we’ll get the sociology/business dudes." The bad news is that it worked: these guys came out of a bidding war with a Star Trak deal and MGMT scored a Columbia contract. Maybe we should make a pact of our own: let’s not talk about class using the terms they’re feeding to us. Who cares about the Ralph Lauren sweater? We want to know what your parents do for a living.

Chester French performs at 1:25 p.m., Sat/20, on the Tunnel Stage at Treasure Island Music Festival. Vampire Weekend plays 5:55 p.m., Sun/21, on the Bridge Stage at the Treasure Island Festival.