L.C. Mason

Straight from the heart


MUSIC It’s typical to want to leave everything behind at times, because everything just seems the same after a while, no matter where you’re from. When Bethany Cosentino ventured to New York City for college and hated being walled in by the snow and skyscrapers, she inundated herself with the warm melodies of the Beach Boys, surf music and 1960s girl groups — the soundtrack of her native California. Like the Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin'” come to life, homesickness eventually drove her back west to record a slew of hazy, sun-stroked 7-inches for her new project, lovingly christened Best Coast.

“The aesthetic is drawn from revisiting my love for California after leaving it and becoming obsessed with this idea of California in the ’60s and surfboards tied to Woodies,” Cosentino explains. “It’s a cliché California thing, but that’s where it comes from.”

That kind of heartsickness is just the reason Best Coast’s modus operandi feels real, or more than a mere throwback to old lovelorn damsels in distress singing about their bad boy dream lovers. Each song evokes the pleasurable lethargy brought on by summer’s heat, resulting in cozy, worn-in anthems for anybody caught in a cold room or chilly state of mind. Meanwhile, Cosentino’s words, always sung in a drawl, are straight from the brain of any young person chasing love in the modern world: “I’m always waking up with something in my head / It’s six a.m. and I’m in someone else’s bed / Oh, I wish you were here,” she purrs on “Wish He Was You.”

Grungey guitars and dazed bedroom lo-fi, like the Ramones on a serious Shangri-Las binge, color songs like “Sun Was High (So Was I)” and “Something In The Way.” Glimpses of Phil Spector shine through the reverb splendor of Best Coast’s most fully-realized single, “When I’m With You.” Here Cosentino separates the women from the girls. Veiled by a gossamer layer of sarcasm and accompanied by a full band and a choir, she brazenly exclaims, “The world is lazy / But you and me, we’re just crazy / Cuz when I’m with you, I have fun.”

Long before Cosentino plugged into indie beach party territory, she was an actor in commercials for Child World and Little Caesars. She had dreams of being on Broadway. Her first songwriting attempt, at 15, was fueled by her first major breakup. She recorded demos as Bethany Sharayah and was courted by major labels, but turned them down because she wasn’t ready.

A foray into psychedelic ambient music with her band Pocahaunted stands as a testament to Cosentino’s adventurous spirit. Formed with her friend Amanda Brown, the band — which opened for Sonic Youth at a 2007 Berkeley show — specialized in atmospheric, guitar-driven drone music that is wildly opposite from Cosentino’s catchy Best Coast gems.

“Behind the scenes, I was listening to Bruce Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac and pop music,” Cosentino explains. “I’m just returning to the kind of music I’ve always wanted to play and write. If you knew me as Bethany Sharayah and you came to a Pocahaunted show, you’d be like, ‘What the heck is this?'”

Judging by the sold-out status of many of Best Coast’s 7-inches (released on labels like Art Fag and Black Iris) and the buzz around the band, both a major indie label and a hectic 2010 are on the horizon. Their first proper album was finished in two weeks and boasts all new tracks. After a mini-war among labels, it will come out later this year.

Best Coast, which includes Cosentino’s best friend Bobb Bruno on bass, goes on its first North American tour with the Vivian Girls starting next week. Cosentino is looking forward to stretching her legs onstage. “When we play live, I don’t think about it too hard,” she says. “Mistakes are made and words get messed up, but it’s just fun. There was a couple slow dancing in the front at one show and I wanted to cry. They came up to me afterward and said, “That was our song.” If I’ve fulfilled any sort of dream, that was it.”

Think of Best Coast as a sonic love letter to California.


With the Vivian Girls and the Bananas

Tues/, 9 p.m., $10

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455


Perfect kiss



MUSIC When Black Sabbath comes on, I’m instantly transported to those high school days of driving myself to class and headbanging to every track on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (Warner Bros., 1973) so hard I could barely see the road. Led Zeppelin forced me to do ridiculous amounts of air guitar in my room, while the Beatles saw me go through puberty and live in fear of the male species. Years later, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love (EMI, 1985) was my soundtrack to falling wildly, truly in love.

The floating world in which memories exist is the same zone where the narratives of our lives take form. For any music freak, certain albums, guitar solos, or screeched lyrics bring the mind’s-eye back to that realm. Alan Palomo, the man behind the electro-psych project Neon Indian explicitly mines this tendency with a laser-like synth sound that seems swiped directly from the early 1980s.

"Music is getting more and more referential," said the Mexican-born, Texas-raised Palomo. "It’s becoming all about context. It’s not just about hearing a song, it’s about hearing it reverberating out of a room and trying to find sense in that. It’s about hearing a song playing in the other room when you were four while eating Cap’n Crunch."

What ’80s kid doesn’t get wistful about watching cartoons in the morning over a bowl of soggy cereal? The music Palomo creates on keyboards, samplers, and mixers taps into the collective consciousness of anyone who lived through that particular decade. Neon Indian’s seamless first full-length Psychic Chasms (Lefse) fuses the more dancefloor-oriented sounds of New Order with the chugging electronic pop of Electric Light Orchestra. Lyrically, it taps into themes of youth that are forever cherished in the corners of our brains: mindless delinquency, the lazy days of summer, and unruly hormones.

"I feel like it was a whimsical generation," Palomo says regarding the pop culture decade that spawned many of his influences. "The music had a really strange quality. It’s cheesy but very sincere — there’s a heartfelt vibe. A lot of music these days doesn’t really attract me on that emotional level because it doesn’t have the same narrative qualities. Those songs [from the ’80s] tell stories, and now people are afraid to do that."

Some writers have pinpointed Neon Indian as part of a blossoming sound that boasts newfangled genre tags like chillwave, glo-fi, tape-hiss, or hypnagogic pop because of its laid-back, homespun, synthy, foggy-eyed psychedelic artistry. It’s been everywhere since this summer, as hazy bits of songs from the distant past of cassette music and analog sound are lovingly reinvoked by a slew of new outfits such as Washed Out, Toro Y Moi, and Memory Tapes. But Palomo, who performs with a full band onstage, believes that Neon Indian is distinct.

"I don’t see myself in chillwave, even though others do," Palomo says. "Neon Indian is not completely about nostalgia. It should also be about songwriting. And it’s not necessarily just revisiting stuff. I always see it as a continuation of the sound. Why does a genre have to end? It can just evolve. People really want that kind of emotional experience in music."
Psychic Chasms is a heady collection of inventive retro-futuristic pop homages that play with funk and disco, Nintendo bleeps and burps, bent and breathy vocals, and distorted guitars. Palomo, a self-described extrovert, wrote the album over the course of three weeks fueled by intuition and solitude. "I felt like a deadbeat and wrote music all the time," he explains. "It’s called Psychic Chasms because it sounds like an interior land survey, like I was trying to map out the way my mind works, the memories that plague me consistently, and how they determine my emotional dispositions now. The older you grow, the more convoluted memory becomes."


With The Love X Nowhere, Nite Jewel

Thurs/19, 8 p.m. $10

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

(415) 861-2011


The searchers


When there is no firm ground, the only sensible thing to do is to keep moving. Lester Bangs wrote that, but countless wandering souls have lived it since the first humans stumbled across the continents. Long after land bridges dissolved and the great cities of the world were mapped, San Francisco — the legendary land’s-end haven for dreamers, kooks, and hedonists — became a butterfly net for the world’s drifters. Prismatic crowds have come and gone through the decades, helping to grow one of the world’s great music scenes.

"There’s just a certain point where you realize that nothing is going to satisfy you all the time," muses Christopher Owens, one of two masterminds behind the SF band Girls. "The solution is to be a person who’s always looking for the next thing. Oscar Wilde said that the meaning of life is the search for meaning of life. But there is no meaning to life — it’s just never laying down and accepting your surroundings, even if they’re comfortable. It’s like the Rolling Stones song, "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction." I think I’ve always felt like that, and always will be like that."

Girls, “Lust for Life”

Looking up from peeling the label off a kombucha bottle and blinking his big eyes, Chet "JR" White nonchalantly nods: "I’m really never content, hardly ever happy, but every once in a while I’m both. Everything’s about getting somewhere else, I think."

While most bands fade slowly or implode, ever so rarely one explodes into something transcendent because it’s hit a nerve or two and tapped into the human experience in a profound way. Girls is that kind of band. Owens and White have been around for years, playing raucous live shows while quietly perfecting their imminent debut LP, Album (True Panther/Matador). A collection of glam-pop with that genre’s flair for artifice, it also — unlike traditional glam pop — possesses an emotional authenticity absent from so much music being churned out today.

Owens and White first united as roommates in San Francisco, but their lives couldn’t have started out more differently. While White was playing in punk bands in his parents’ Santa Cruz garage and going to recording school, Owens was growing up as part of the Slovenian sect of the Children of God cult, where secular music was forbidden unless one of the cult’s adults decided to indulge the younger members’ desire to learn the occasional Beatles or 1960s folk tune.

Owens broke away from the Children of God at 16 to live with his sister in Amarillo, Texas. Everything the rest of us had heard a thousand times before we were teenagers was a revelation to him. "When I learned to play the guitar, I was still in the cult and I didn’t really know anything but their music," he says. "When I turned 16 and left the group, it was like the whole world was in front of me. I got the Cranberries, the Cure, Black Sabbath, Sinead O’Connor, Michael Jackson, and the Romeo + Juliet movie soundtrack, and I’d play them on my stereo in my room and learn them and play guitar. The next wave was pop music. When I turned 18, I had become an American teen."

Owens was quickly engulfed by the small town’s punk scene: "I threw away seven years of my life there. All I have is tattoos from Amarillo." He played in a few punk bands, the music drawing him in because it was "really angsty." But after a few years, he felt the itch to do something new. "There wasn’t really anything in particular that drew me to San Francisco," he says. "I made a commitment that I was gonna leave Amarillo on New Year’s Day in 2005. All my friends moved to Austin, which I thought was the lamest thing in the world. I wanted absolute change. I wanted to totally reinvent myself and leave all those people behind."

Shortly after he landed in the Bay Area, Owens was asked to join the L.A. band Holy Shit. "I only played in the band because I was totally obsessed with Ariel Pink and Matt Fishbeck," he says, referring to the band’s underground-hero founders. "I started to write these songs to impress them and to vent my feelings, but the main driving force was that I wanted to be like them so much. I kept thinking I’m gonna make something that’s gonna blow their minds. I wanted to make something really classic that everyone could say they liked."

And that’s what he did. Owens wrote dozens of songs inspired by his friends, ex-lovers, and San Francisco itself, and recorded them, guided by White’s keen ear for grandeur. After scrapping song takes recorded on a four-track, the pair spent money on a proper tape machine and used only a few microphones to keep Album crisp and clear.

"I like big, amazing sounding records," says engineering wizard and bassist White, who counts Wrecking Crew bassist Carol Kaye as an influence. "I hate lo-fi music. Early on, people would call us lo-fi and I would take it kind of hard. We were just attempting to make the best-sounding thing we could with what we had — as good as any big record that had a lot of money put into it. I always like records that are made under some sort of duress. I think those records are great, if you can hear it. When I hear ours, I can hear the moments that go along with the music."

With Album, Owens and White edge closer to timelessness than any of their San Francisco contemporaries. While much of the city’s rock scene is embroiled in a hot and noisy love affair with psychedelic garage music, the boys of Girls have come up with something different: classic melodic songs for a restless soul in search of freedom and purpose in this whirlwind world. It doesn’t hurt that behind Owens’ lyrical pearls one discovers lush and unadulterated arrangements and majestic Wall of Sound-esque moments.

Album‘s magnum opus, "Hellhole Ratrace," is a plaintive hymn about the urge to cut loose and live. It starts off with simple guitar strumming, which in turn is soon immersed in a mesmerizing swell of buried organ work, slow hand claps, and trilling guitars that elevates it into an anthem. "I don’t wanna die without shaking up a leg or two /I wanna do some dancin’ too," sings Owens. "I don’t wanna cry /my whole life through /Yeah I wanna do some laughin’ too / So come on, come on, come on, come on and dance with me."

This year has already been one hell of a ride for Girls, which now includes guitarist John Anderson ("He’s the best guitar player I’ve ever played with in my life," says Owens) and drummer Garett Godard. The group has been on tour nearly constantly for several months across America and Europe. For a pair of nomads like Owens and White, it seems like the perfect gig, at least for now. Both harbor dreams of being thrust into the canon with the rest of the greats, and that reality may not be so far off.

"I want to write a song that’s as good as "Let It Be" or "I Will Always Love You." I want to write a song that everybody in the world knows," says Owens, glancing at his bandmate.

"I just want to be one of those bands that becomes culturally ingrained, one of those bands that’s unavoidable," echoes White. "One of those bands that is larger than music itself."

Impassioned youth, existential wisdom, and stories of aching romance weave together to make Album a slice of true Californian pop that never stops hitting home. When you hear Owens’ voice, unshackled by fuzz or distortion, crooning about the fear of dying before ever accomplishing anything, you remember that you’ve felt the same way dozens of times too. And when he starts chirping, "I wish I had a suntan /I wish I had a pizza and a bottle of wine," on the sarcastic, ecstatic opener "Lust for Life," you want to drop everything and run through the streets to join him.


With Papercuts, Cass McCombs

Wed/9, 9 p.m., $14–$16

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(888) 233-0449


Kurt Vile


PREVIEW Walking around the streets of his hometown Philly, Kurt Vile is on the other end of the phone talking about his various fixations and some of his musical dopplegangers.

"I was obsessed with Springsteen," he says, after pausing to ask for a pack of Camel Lights at a corner store. "I still love Springsteen. I love all the greats. I don’t love everything, but usually I get obsessed with everything. And Neil Young! I’ve always liked Neil Young, but a few years ago I read his biography Shakey [by Jimmy McDonough; Random House, 2002] and I was a psycho fan afterwards."

The first rumblings most of us heard from Vile, apart from his work with throwback psych-rockers the War On Drugs, were earlier this year, when he released God Is Saying This To You? (Mexican Summer) as well as a reissue of his 2008 debut Constant Hitmaker (Gulcher/Woodsist).

These lo-fi albums were compiled from home-recorded songs dating back to 2005. They are rife with woozy sound effects, gossamer instrumentals, and electronic drum beats. Vile’s voice resonates through vignettes about operating forklifts, conversations about red apples, and a scene devoted to riding on a yellow Schwinn while "blasting classic rock in spring." He evokes the isolated melancholy of Nick Drake, and Young’s dulcet-toned, raconteur-esque acoustic numbers.

But Vile isn’t fingerpicking himself into any niche. Constant Hitmaker‘s ecstatic opener, "Freeway," is a beacon of light, shimmering in ’70s pop glory but dosed with Vile’s wizened lyricism. On the March 2009 release The Hunchback EP (Richie Records/Testoster Tunes), Vile and his band the Violators hold nothing back. All amps are cranked to 11, resulting in reverb-laden songs so epic, it’s clear Vile is ready to walk far away from his lo-fi roots, at least for a while.

"On stage, Kurt Vile and the Violators are a serious force," says Richie Charles, the EP’s producer. "I suppose they take their cues from Kurt, but they operate as four dudes whose blood is being pumped by a single heart. The Violators should not be underestimated."

Vile’s facility for writing winsome, bare-bones fingerpickers and wailing Crazy Horse jams is a testament to the intensity of his ideas. "My mind’s always wandering," he says. "Theres so much on my mind about my music right now that it’s taking up all my brain."

These obsessive tendencies are finally paying off. In late May, Matador Records signed Vile, calling him one of the more important figures in modern-day American music. "Signing Kurt was the easiest decision we’ve made since we sponsored a seniors’ Jai Alai league in the early ’90’s," says Matador co-owner Gerard Cosloy. "The liability risks are much lower this time around, and the music’s far better, so everyone’s a winner."

Vile’s next album, the cunningly-titled Childish Prodigy, is due out in autumn. "It’s the closest thing I have so far to my masterpiece," he says. "It’s not super-clean or anything, but it’s most definitely not lo-fi. You can keep uncovering stuff in there. It’s my first album album."

KURT VILE With Dungen and Woods. Aug. 30, 8 p.m., $14. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. (415) 621-1615, www.bottomofthehill.com



PREVIEW A long line of lo-fi troubadours have come crawling over the horizon these past few years. Crocodiles fit right in, but also stand out in more ways than one. The San Diego duo’s got its tight, tattered jeans and Jesus and Mary Chain comparisons, its vocals that sound like they were recorded through blankets, and plenty of attitude.

Just like many of the duo’s garage-rat contemporaries, Crocodiles’ music is a tangle of all things hipper-than-thou. But there’s a menacing intrigue bubbling up from beneath the scaly synth rhythms and claustrophobic distortion — scrub away the requisite hazy feedback and you ‘ll find a pair of sardonic scowls.

The meticulously crafted set of songs on Crocodiles’ debut album Summer of Hate (Fat Possum) prove that frontman and beat programmer Brandon Welchez and guitarist Charles Rowell are junkies for juxtaposition. Diamond-cut hooks and Welchez’ defiant wails weave in and out of electronic drones, resulting in a seamless summer LP.

Both Welchez and Rowell were once part of the SoCal punk outfit The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower. After lineup metamorphoses and the death of a band member, the two found themselves writing shoegaze-punk songs tinged with glee and gloom. Ready-made for living room dance parties, "Refuse Angels" finds the Crocs slithering to a furious, acidic electro beat and sneering that they feel "just like Leon Trotsky." "Here Comes the Sky" is a lonely, sun-baked ballad with arpeggios straight out of a latter-day Beach Boys recording.

Crocodiles aren’t just riding the fuzzy, noisy wave that’s so very in vogue and au courant — they’re surfing it with attention to every pulsating beat and damaged guitar note.

CROCODILES With Pens, Graffiti Island. Wed/19, 7:30 p.m., $10–$12. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, (415) 861-2011. www.rickshawstop.com

Daydream city



In the Bay Area’s labyrinth of low-lit warehouses, cramped house parties, and grimed-out dive bars, it’s a cacophonous tug-of-war for the three-chord crown.

This latter-day resurrection of traits from the late 1960s — the Sears Roebuck guitars; the off-key, offbeat attack; the onstage fearlessness — has brought many unpretentious all-for-one-and-one-for-all shows to the scene. Poised to snag a bit of the shiny rock ‘n’ roll royal headdress is Oakland’s Snakeflower 2, a trio whose blistering, bare-bones repertoire seems to spring newly alive from a dusty, attic-dwelling bin of decades-old abandoned vinyl.

Vocalist and bassist Matthew Melton’s lo-fi roots stretch — like the world’s longest amp cord — all the way back to his hometown in Memphis. There, he grew up playing in garage bands and jamming with prolific punk hero Jay Reatard.

Discontented with the Memphis scene’s lack of fire, Melton eventually put together a ramshackle, road-ready outfit that became Snakeflower’s first incarnation. The group played what Melton, a lover of subgenres, describes as "art punk non-songs." Moving his musical dreams and new band to California instigated a gift-and-curse scenario. "We decided almost overnight to go on tour," he says. "It was really ill-conceived. We did a full U.S. tour literally calling venues from the road, jumping on these bills and having pretty crazy shows along the way."

Snakeflower mark one had wilted by the time the group made it to San Francisco, and Melton’s bandmates stranded him in the city and left for Los Angeles. Nonetheless, he decided to stick things out and reform the band with two new members, drummer Billy Badlands and guitarist Tim Tinderholt.

"Where I grew up in Memphis, you can be guaranteed that no one’s gonna pay any attention to you," Melton says. "Here, there’s much more energy in the scene. Plus, being surrounded by so many great bands is a motivation to keep making great music."

It’s easy to hear what the California scene has done for Snakeflower 2’s live shows and recordings — the group’s aggression is undeniable. The late 2008 release Renegade Daydream (Tic Tac Totally) is steeped in the dire urgency of a fragile heart under pressure. It grooves hard, thanks to dagger-sharp hooks and vicious chord progressions, all registering at shit-hot speed to keep up with Melton’s nervy vocal swagger. "Memory Castle," the album’s single, pairs psychedelic tunnel-vision reverb with a rumination on lost dreams and the courage it takes to get them back.

Melton’s already looking in a new direction for the group’s next album. When his other brainchild, the smooth-punk outfit Bare Wires, gained popularity, Snakeflower 2’s gigs took a hiatus. But during that time, he devoted himself to writing fresh, epic material.

"I’ve actually been working in secret to write and record a 14-minute long cantata called ‘Forbidden Melody,’" he explains. "I had to set time aside to isolate myself [and] work with really pure ideas. [The new music] is something totally different, almost like a rock opera. I’m trying to go a little bit further, really trying to come up with something new."

While much of the local garage scene sticks to the ordinary and familiar. leave it to Melton and his mates to shoot the moon and score an album in the process.


With the Vows, In the Dust

July 13, 9 p.m., $5 (day of show only)

Elbo Room

642 Valencia, SF

(415) 552-7788


Big Business


PREVIEW Here’s a page right out of any rabid metalhead’s book of wildest, mind-blowingest dreams: What if the Norse gods Thor, Odin, and Tyr descended from the stormy heavens and formed a power trio? What would it sound like? What earthly buildings would crumble to the ground? What souls would be raised from their shadowy graves? What chaos would ensue?

To answer that first question: what if? What’s more metal than thunder, lightning, magic, and Valhalla? Those dudes invented it. They started their band approximately 1,300 years ago, before you or guitars existed. Second, they would sound like Los Angeles bone-crushers Big Business, whose giant leaden riffs, primordial Cro-Magnon rhythms, and thunderous hollow vocals pretty much sound like a band Thor might have dreamt up after an all-nighter spent smiting Viking tribes with lightning bolts and joyriding in his goat-drawn chariot with a ravishing blonde goddess.

The guys in Big Business, cut from the same pitch-black cloth as any fearsome Nordic god, are fast approaching their own place in the pantheon of mortal metal royalty. Their sludgy, doom-soaked sound is forged by ex-Murder City Devils drummer Coady Willis and bassist Jared Warren, formerly of Karp. And if their musical resumes weren’t already steeped in metal street cred, Willis and Warren joined the Melvins to record (A) Senile Animal (Ipecac, 2006) and Nude with Boots (Ipecac, 2008). The Biz added guitarist Toshi Kasai to its lineup in 2007, just after its sophomore album Here Come the Waterworks (Hydra Head) won it a hailstorm of critical success and a spot touring with Tool.

Now Big Business’s third album has arrived. While retaining the group’s visceral low-end attack, Mind the Drift (Hydra Head) adds more of Kasai’s quick-fire guitar work to the murk — it gives the album an atmospheric discord that swings like a wrecking ball. The Biz gets almost prog-metal when it adds vocal harmonies (wait, now they sing, too?!) and an organ solo to the dirge of "Ayes Have It." Bottom of the Hill, look out. Will King Buzzo join them on stage? Whatever happens, Big Business won’t be taking prisoners.

BIG BUSINESS With Tweak Bird. Wed/27, 10 p.m., $12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St, SF (415) 621-4455

Beyond weird


Tobacco doesn’t like the Beatles, or the Who. And Pink Floyd is "okay." This makes sense for the man whose prolific mind fuels Black Moth Super Rainbow. The Pittsburgh analog synth sorcerers specialize in prismatic albums that swing seamlessly between sunlit repose and hallucinatory freak-outs. They use an array of vintage beat makers, keyboards, and guitars. Those who pin BMSR’s mercurial sound with the "psychedelia" label aren’t peering deep enough into the looking glass.

"Maybe subconsciously all that garbage is in there and I don’t realize it," Tobacco consents. "I definitely don’t try to make it sound like Pink Floyd or the Beatles, but maybe that stuff’s just stuck in my head and I just can’t get it out."

He’s happier to cite the Beastie Boys’ 1992 mutative alt-rap disc Check Your Head (Capitol) as an influence, one that’s especially evident on his 2008 solo effort Fucked Up Friends (Anticon). He also credits one of the Beasties’ hip-hop cohorts: "I hated music when I was a kid. The first song I ever liked was "Just a Friend" by Biz Markie."

From Biz Markie to prog rock, nothing about BMSR’s sound is straightforward. The group cultivates a mystique that blends the anachronistic with the futuristic. Some surrealistic soundscapes are steeped in bongwater, while others teeter on the glittery edge of acid-trip oblivion. The resulting deconstructed melodies and beats elude most genre epithets. With Eating Us (Graveface) about to drop on May 26, Tobacco, né Tom Fec, is hoping that people will finally stop calling BMSR weird.

"I’ve never thought an album like [2007’s] Dandelion Gum (Graveface) was weird, but a lot of people did, even people who liked it," says Tobacco. Not so with Eating Us: "Everyone’s either understanding what I was going for or they’re just repeating what we’re telling them,"

Tobacco wrote and recorded Eating Us on his own, before enlisting the help of producer David Fridmann, who he says "just sort of pull(s) the gunk out of" BMSR’s sound. In the process, the wonderland of sonic bits and pieces found on albums such as 2003’s Falling Through A Field (Graveface) gives way to an expansive landscape of heady incantations for the electronic age.

If Dandelion Gum saw Black Moth spreading its wings for flight, Eating Us is the sound of the band going airborne. Drums replace beat machines. Layered dream-dipped hums and purrs play hand-in-hand the spooky minor-key trills that are one of the band’s signatures. The melodies are more cogent but no less rainbow-hued. Tobacco’s Vocoder-drenched voice is inhumanly-human on tracks such as the regal "Iron Lemonade."

For bands that continue to put out albums the traditional way, these are trying times. "When I was one of those young whippersnappers in high school, I used to read magazines and that’s how I found out about stuff," Tobacco says when asked about the shifting frameworks for music and music writing. "Now it’s all blogging, [and] no one would have heard of us without it.

"What sucks is that our album leaked a month ago and everyone started reviewing it," he continues. "I’ve been reading things by people who weren’t even done listening to it — they were reviewing as they were listening. That just changes perceptions. It’s not about the album anymore, it’s about the hype that leads up it. When I was a kid, it was all about finding the album when it came out — that’s when its life began. Now, once the album comes out, it’s dead. Who knows, May 26 may be the last time you hear about [Eating Us]."

That isn’t likely. BMSR’s albums are like musical toys, catering to nostalgists who still seek out music in its physical form. Their 2008 EP Drippers (Graveface) was packaged with five scratch-and-sniff scents, and Eating Us includes a 16-page booklet that can be refolded to create different images. Oh, and the cover art has hair.

The best bands constantly change, metamorphosing against sameness, labels, and the death of ideas. BMSR continues to evolve from the dimmest corners of the mind into transcendent swaths of weirdo-pop sensibility. It’s almost like the Beatles, if they got behind synthesizers, went underground, and never emerged from 1967. Almost.

Thee Oh Sees, Mayyors, Nodzzz


PREVIEW "Less is more" sucks; "more is more" rules. Maybe that’s just the indulgent kid in me talking, but it hasn’t stopped me from incessantly barking my musical wet dream over a bullhorn to anyone with ears: more fuzz, grit, and grime; more sweat; more eyeballs rolling back into heads; more microphones in mouths. Then one day, Christmas came early. Hark! The herald angels sing. Someone heard these ardent desires and delivered to me a glittering layer cake of wondrous noise — a megabill starring garage kingpins Thee Oh Sees, incognito feedback wizards Mayyors, and lo-fi clamor popsters Nodzzz.

This Bay Area-baked rock ‘n’ roll show might reduce any holier-than-thou longhair into a hapless fanboy or girl — while still maintaining that hip exterior, of course. But that’s okay. You’ll get over pretending you’re cool, because you’ll soon be quoting the wise words of Britney Spears, yelling "Gimme gimme more" in reflex to the spectacle of visceral, adrenochrome-addled power. Like when Mayyors’ caged-animal vocalist John Pritchard lets loose his devilish yawps; or when ax-wielder Chris Woodhouse’s dirty, torrential licks get ghoulish; or when Oh Sees’ guitarist Petey Dammit hones in on a laser-cut groove and won’t let go; or when the Nodzzz boys brazenly wail "Is she there? Is she there?" over swooning, sun-lit strums; or when, or when, or when….

More is more: when it rains it pours.

THEE OH SEES, MAYYORS, NODZZZ With Sunny and the Sunsets. Wed/29, 8 p.m., $5. El Rincon, 2700 16th Street, SF. (415) 437-9240. www.elrinconsf.com>.

A six-pack of rock picks



Fuzz is the new black — at least according to the gospel preached by Thee Oh Sees and Eat Skull. The two West Coast combos will take the beer- and noise-soaked pulpit at the Eagle Tavern to bang out hazy sermons of garage wit and wisdom. (L.C. Mason)

With Grant Hart and the Fresh and Onlys. Thurs/26, 9 p.m., $5. Eagle Tavern, 398 12th St., SF. (415) 626-0880. www.sfeagle.com


Dark Dark Dark released its debut album in 2008 on Rhode Island’s Supply and Demand label. The group’s folky, rootsy instrumentation and female-to-male vocal tradeoffs take over the Caretaker’s House. (Andre Torrez)

Fri/28, 8 p.m. www.myspace.com/darkdarkdarkband


Imagine you’re in high school: Trans Am are the electronics nerds who jam to Rush, Anthony Petrovic of Ezee Tiger is the misunderstood indie guy who is into the Flaming Lips and Lightning Bolt while you’re still spinning Sublime, and Futur Skullz are the long-hairs who know metal is cool five years before you will — and who just got busted for stealing Dad’s whiskey. (Mason)

Sun/29, 9 p.m., $14. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. (415) 621-4455. www.bottomofthehill.com


A hard-drinking, potty-mouthed blues legend with a rap sheet long enough to impress any modern thug, wizened oldster T-Model Ford has been rolling around the Deep South since the early 20th century. But he isn’t a walking geriatrics case — backed by Gravel Road, he can stomp the blues till the stage caves in. (Mason)

With the Ferocious Few and Ramshackle Romeos. Sun/29, 8 p.m., $10. Thee Parkside, 1600 17th St., S.F. (415) 252-1330. www.theeparkside.com


Wooden Shjips bring straight-outta-1971 fuzz rock. Earthless boasts the drummer from Rocket From the Crypt and Hot Snakes, and shares the Shjips affinity for retro sounds — with a knack for the Sabbath- and Zep-tinged blues. (Torrez)

With Eyes. Sat/28, 9:30 p.m., $10. Café du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016. www.cafedunord.com


More trance-inducing psychedelia from a seemingly endless supply of West Coast bands pumping out the experimental sounds of the other and extra-ordinary: Barn Owl creates dark chamber-like atmospheres, while Holly Caust specializes in over-modulated guitar assault. (Torrez)

With Tecumseh and Oaxacan. Sun/29, 9 p.m., $6. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. 415-923-0923. www.hemlocktavern.com


Sabertooth Zombie


PREVIEW Savage and bloodthirsty as a werewolf in heat under a full moon, Sabertooth Zombie is heavy hardcore punk at its ear-splitting finest. The North Bay quintet mixes overdriven drums and guitar riffs with swampy stoner-metal power chords and a vocalist whose pipes ring with the same rage and ruin as legendary Discharge frontman Cal Morris. Every time this brutal cocktail hits the stage, audiences unravel into throbbing disarray. The flailing limbs, clenched fists, and furious headbanging only add to the band’s when-it-rains-it-pours aesthetic.

The group’s newest seven-song EP, Dent Face (Twelve Gauge), stares back at you with a cover adorned with infamously crazed Britney Spears fan Chris Crocker. He sports a Sabertooth Zombie shirt, his hands on his miniskirt-clad hips and a shit-eating grin on his face. The music — in stark juxtaposition with Dent Face‘s tongue-in-cheek representation of a Zombie superfan — careens across the rugged punk rock blacktop with ferocious songs for true Hessians. On the title track, an avalanche of chord progressions creates a snowball effect as the song thrashes and heaves under sarcastic lyrics about hollow-brained contemporary American youth. "Campaign" throws a curveball with multiple tempo changes, trading an enormous double bass drum intro for a cut-time juggernaut riff and rare guitar solo. The number slows to doom-metal pace, swells with a freeform saxophone solo, and ends as suddenly as it began. Such musical twists keep Sabertooth Zombie at the front of the local thrash pack.

SABERTOOTH ZOMBIE With Grace Alley and Prize Hog. Mon/2, 7 p.m., $5. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. (415) 923-0923, www.hemlocktavern.com

Foot Village


PREVIEW As if it were a sovereign nation of drum-toting, megaphone-wielding musical savages, Foot Village bears its own two-pronged manifesto, stating "Our national language is drumming, our national pass-time is screaming." This declaration aptly sums up the Los Angeles group’s polyrhythmic sonic attack, which is studded with explosions of feral hoots and hollers, and three drum sets’ worth of cataclysmic crashing, hissing, and banging.

The band’s witch-doctor blend of hardcore punk and noise rock is at its best on "Bones": visions of bloodthirsty, amphetamine-fueled jungle warriors out to collect heads come to mind via Grace Lee’s wild yawps over the rest of the Village’s battle cries and death-drum rolls. Foot Village’s forthcoming album of "drum essays," titled Anti-Magic (Upset the Rhythm) and out June 2009, will be the young collective’s blueprint for its war upon the ethereal as its avows to "embrace the physical and the physical alone." Considering the group’s aggressively carnal approach to music, god help anyone who gets in its way. The ensemble will perform with the Drums — a new project with John Dwyer, ex of the Coachwhips and currently of Thee Oh Sees — at Bottom of the Hill, making it a blitzkrieg of eardrum assault with no electric guitars or bass in sight. This isn’t the usual clamor we San Franciscans are fed, but the citizens of Foot Village are clearly ready to shovel their bristling wall of sound down our hungry throats.

FOOT VILLAGE With the Drums, T.I.T.S., and Casy and Brian. Wed/18, 9 p.m., $8. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. (415) 621-4455, www.bottomofthehill.com