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House of Tudor 

Modern-day torch songs, synth-pop sleaze, and Central Asian electro hybrids

Wednesday, Dec 4 2002
As the sixth-largest city in the country and the first major metropolis north of the Mexican border, San Diego should have more to offer to the cultural mix than, say, Rocket from the Crypt and blink-182. Historically, however, San Diego's somnolent conservatism and inescapable military presence has leached burgeoning artists of all hope, chasing them north (save for the anomaly of Black Heart Procession). But not anymore. Ilya is next in hopefully a long, black train of gorgeously somber musicmakers coming out of San Diego, folks better suited to lightning storms and dusky velvet than the hot asphalt and Day-Glo spandex of their birthright. Fronted by Blanca Roja, this moody six-piece reconfigures elements of jazz, trip hop, ambient electronica, and post-punk into elegant modern-day torch songs. On Ilya's debut, Poise Is the Greater Architect, Roja's vocals -- a sensual combination of Fiona Apple huskiness, Björk-ian phrasing, and Lolita-toned weariness -- rustle through hypnotic keyboard refrains, rising to dizzying heights on architectural waves of guitar and synth. Armed with poetic verse, Roja's languid stage presence, and musicians capable of incredible subtlety, Ilya could easily become the patron saint of young broken-hearted beauties; when Roja's voice slides against that of keyboardist/guitarist Matthew Baker, the collective takes on an even deeper hue. The duality achieved in songs like "I Want to Know," where Baker and Roja create vocal labyrinths against a billowing sonic underbrush, reveals something beyond post-modern longing. Ilya teams up with San Diego illustrator Joshua Krause and filmmaker Andrew Pates, Tijuana jewelry designer Gabriella Fuentes, and Mexican pop band Loopdrop to prove there's something south of L.A. on Friday, Dec. 6, at Edinburgh Castle at 9 p.m. Pinq and Kumar Pallama headline. Tickets are $5; call 885-4074.

The nice thing about the new-wave revival is that the original artists won't look quite as pathetic as their punk-rock counterparts when they try to cash in on reunion tours. While a 50-year-old guy playing three chords and singing about youthful rebellion strikes me as wholly disingenuous, a 50-year-old guy sitting behind a keyboard and moaning about sex, drugs, and money seems fair enough. If so, few one-hit wonders are more deserving of the bankroll than Soft Cell. As synth-pop's most flagrant harbinger of sleaze, Soft Cell never tried to hide its primary preoccupation with aberrant sexuality and, for this, it was beloved. The two musicians first appeared in 1981 with the soft-core, user-friendly single "Tainted Love, quickly followed by Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, an intimate tour of the red-light district in their minds, containing such songs as "Seedy Films," "Frustration," "Bedsitter," and the untouchable "Sex Dwarf." While Soft Cell's new record, Cruelty Without Beauty, is no Erotic Cabaret, songs like "Caligula Syndrome," "Sensation Nation," and "Whatever It Takes" suggest that the band still has a knack for seedy dance music -- as well as an aptitude for ironic self-reflection. Soft Cell performs at the Warfield on Friday, Dec. 6 at 8 p.m. Ticket price is $25-30; call 775-7722.

Born in Kazakhstan, a Central Asian republic in the former Soviet Union, Irini Mikhailova absorbed the musical traditions at her fingertips while training at the St. Petersburg Academy of Music. After moving to the Bay Area, Mikhailova formed the trio Lumin, marrying such old-world sounds to a Western aesthetic. On Lumin's latest album, Hadra, the threesome casts Balkan, Middle Eastern, Russian, and Asian shadows over progressive breakbeats and driving percussion, with Mikhailova's haunting ululations lying down with hardcore drum 'n' bass to give birth to a fiery new-world fusion. Tonight, Lumin prepares "Samadi," an artistic appeal for tolerance that also features the electro Qawwali arrangements of Shabaz and DJ Sep. Expect belly dancers, cirque performers, chai, and rich aromas on Saturday, Dec. 7, at SomArts at 9:30 p.m. Ticket price is $12; call 978-2710 ext. 220.

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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