Elemental Pee

Short and fast and complicated and not cuddlecore

After two years, three singles, and a bang-up debut record, the members of Pee have learned the first rule of rock: If you don't pigeonhole your music, someone else will. Steered by teeter-tottering vocal melodies, Pee manipulates speedy time changes and stair-stepping guitar hooks into concise packages that somehow manage to sound tough and charming. Drummer Andee Connors calls it "grindpop." "All of the songs are really short and fast and complicated, so it's like grindcore only it's pop," says Connors.

He's right, even though he's pushing the term grindpop up a hill against the fuzzier tag rolling down at Pee: Perhaps through guilt by association, the band has found itself lumped under the rubric of "cuddlecore," a genre invented to market bands like Cub, a trio of hipsters from Vancouver, who self-consciously revel in cutesy, silly lyrics and a sassy sensibility. Partial fault lies with Pee's label, March Records in Chicago, home of typical cuddlecore bands like Godzuki and Holiday, which proudly popularized the term two years ago, long before Pee was on its roster. The term was partly a joke, partly a marketing ploy designed to call attention to the testosterone deficiency of certain bands.

Touring through the Windy City, Connors stepped into Reckless Records to find copies of Pee's record tagged "new from cuddlecore central."

"The description of our record was very incorrect, which made it seem like no one had listened to it. There were references to Tsunami, and they were saying it was 'super sugary sweet pop,' " says Connors. "It's one of those things that has very little to do with the actual band musically or individually. Cuddlecore has nothing to do with anything."

Still, sometimes even irritating record-store scribes who write minireviews of labels rather than records manage to squeeze a drop of truth from their Sharpies. Pee's lyrics do bear the cuddlecore signature of songs about childhood. At least a quarter of the numbers off the band's first full-length, Now, More Charm and More Tender, tell stories about elementary school and the slow days of youngsters.

"There are childhood references in there," agrees singer/guitarist Kelly Green, "but you've got to sing about something. Jim [Stanley] and I always end up writing lyrics about being little kids. I have a lot of really vivid memories about my childhood, so it's easy."

Green's childhood faded into teen years in L.A. where she played Cure covers with her first band. Later, she moved to Santa Barbara and, with bassist Bob Albert, started the band Garden Party, which eventually followed the two of them to San Francisco. Meanwhile, guitarist/vocalist Jim Stanley and Connors were heshing out the metal glory days of the late '80s in bands in their native San Diego.

Connors moved to San Francisco in 1990, and began playing with A Minor Forest, a gig he still holds, in 1992. Later, Stanley made his way north as well and eventually hooked up with Green. The newly constituted Pee soon released a 7-inch, featuring "Jonah and the Whale" and "Transplant City." Connors' thumping attack became a permanent fixture in 1994.

While Green's pre-Pee Cure legacy comes out with a laugh, Stanley and Connors take their metallic pasts seriously. "All the metal that we've played and listened to affects this band," says Connors. "This band doesn't sound like a lot of other pop bands, so I'm assuming that metal has something to do with it." If anything, the metal influence comes across in the driving rhythms Stanley and Green play with finger-blurring speed. Connors thunders with sticks the size of small aspen trees, burning through an entire quiver in one short set.

It's misleading, however, to focus on metal traits. With Pee there are no tweedling guitar solos or menacing chants. As with the live songs, recorded tunes work best when Green's and Stanley's dual lead vocals course through hooks that stick like Velcro. Spotted with goofy samples from toys, a Japanese alarm clock, and the Archers of Loaf's "Web in Front," Now clocks in 16 crafty songs that burn though 30 minutes of the CD. It's a classic pop trick -- songs so brief that listeners are still licking their lips over the last tune halfway through the next.

But Pee's ambitious, too. The CD's hidden track is an eight-minute opus titled after the phrase composer Erik Satie used to close his correspondence with: "I Squeeze the Tips of Your Fingers to Make You Cry." The song starts with a layered, three-minute introduction built around a pounding bass line, breaks for Stanley to announce, "This is laid-back and redundant/ Why must I retard," and then erupts into a barrage of distorted rhythm guitar at the crescendo. It proves Pee can muster the maturity it takes to craft a song that demands sustained attention.

This July, Pee gets a chance to road-test the new songs with a five-week tour, their first countrywide trip. Returning home, the band will face two immediate challenges: recording a new EP, and then replacing Albert, who's amicably leaving to take a job in another state. And if Connors' definition of grindpop doesn't catch on with indie rockers and record-store employees as the band tours and hammers out its next record, maybe Pee's players will jostle with one other task -- detaching themselves from cuddlecore, a onetime joke now bedeviling a band that deserves more than a label. "Let's not dwell on it," Stanley says. "There's no power there."

Pee plays with Little My and Henry's Dress Friday, May 24, at the Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., S.F.; call 621-4455.

 
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