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Indie Rock/Noise Pop

Heavenly States

Indie-pop bands have always been kind of wimpy. Maybe it's the fey harmonies, or the sissy-face "oohs" and "ahs," or, God forbid, the stalwart loyalty to "jangly." This is not the case, though, with the Heavenly States, who could simultaneously soundtrack and star in some nerd-cum-hero '80s movie about the genre. In other words, they're an indie-pop band with teeth. The Oakland troupe, led by moody founder/singer Ted Nesseth, offers a single-finger salute to the establishment -- whether the establishment at hand be the government (the band traveled the whole goddamn world with a gaggle of journalists in tow in a [failed] attempt to be the first American rock ambassadors to a newly opened Libya) or the governing trends in pop. The States' take on that three-letter word eschews bobby socks and first kisses for squalling grit à la early-'90s SST tough guys and the noisy theatrics of Dinosaur Jr. Boasting a brother-sister backup squad in drummer Jeremy Gagon and violinist Genevieve Gagon, the band came together in 2002, existing for a brief period of adjustment under the questionable moniker of Fluke Starbucker. Since then, the members have earned a reputation for their jaw-dropping (and occasionally just plain livid) live shows, a tradition that started on the group's eighth day of existence, at a gig where Genevieve reputedly set herself afire. OK, so that's just an urban myth, but it's an apt one that's followed the band across stages far and wide, through soured indie deals (including a run on Future Farmer), unpaid 8 o'clock opening slots, and plenty of beer-soaked transcendentalism. The States' most recent recording effort, Black Comet, was released in July on Baria Records to well-deserved critical adoration.

Kelley Stoltz

As a musician, Kelley Stoltz is hard to pin down, because he's such a chameleon. On his records, he's equally at home composing shimmering Syd Barrett-esque psychedelic tracks ("Perpetual Night"), pretty Nick Drake-ish folk ballads ("Jewel of the Evening"), and spastic Soft Boys-y post-punk numbers ("Are You Electric?"). He can sing a pretty falsetto melody one minute and shout like a sexy boozehound the next. And then there are the songs like "Crystal Ball," in which he combines genres, coming off like Phil Spector recording the Beatles underwater. As local singer/songwriter Chuck Prophet once said, Stoltz makes songs that are "fucked up and bent and, at the same time, composed and beautiful." And for the first time, people outside the Bay Area are starting to take serious notice. Sub Pop recently signed the Michigan native to a contract, and the Seattle label plans to release an EP called The Sun Comes Through any day now, with a full-length to follow in January 2006. Stoltz has come a long way since his 1999 debut, The Past Was Faster, which was a decent-if-slavish ode to artists like Leonard Cohen, Captain Beefheart, and Echo & the Bunnymen. (He would take the latter influence to its ultimate conclusion in 2001, releasing a song-by-song re-creation of the Bunnymen's CrocodilesLP.) Between Sunand 2003's Antique Glow, though, Stoltz graduated from four- to eight-track, in the process pushing his home-recording sound in ever more exotic and inventive directions. The circus psychedelia of "Please Visit Soon," the Velvet Underground chug-a-lug of "Mt. Fuji," and the shimmering space-rock of "Mean Marianne" all proved that Cyndi Lauper wasn't the only one who was "so unusual." Now, advance word on his new record is that it sounds like "John Lennon krautrock," which sounds impossibly perfect -- or, rather, perfectly impossible.

Two Gallants

It's easy (and a bit lazy) to suggest that Two Gallants may be the Bay Area's White Stripes. True, the band comprises a guitarist/vocalist (Adam Stephens) and a drummer/backup vocalist (Tyson Vogel), and together they do infuse dusty Southern blues and country with classic rock oomph. That's about where the similarities end, however. The two gallants are both dudes, for one thing; for another, even though they grew up in San Francisco and have known each other since they were 5, they've never been married (or started a rumor that they are related). Musically, the two stick closer to the roots side of rock, more Skip James and Rev. Robert Wilkins than Led Zep or the Rolling Stones. (Hell, they named their band after a James Joyce short story, if that tells you anything.) Vogel favors waltz tempos and scattershot fills, while Stephens plays with a fluid, bluesy tone that hints at shit-kicking roadhouses and country honky-tonks. Lyrically, the pair focus on the deadbeat and downtrodden, with "If liquor's the lover, you know I'm a whore" being a good representative line. Then there's Stephens' voice, which eerily recalls Cat Stevens' if he had drank, fought, and fucked more. All this grungy glamour got started in 2002, although the two friends had been playing together since they were 12. (They're now a mere 22.) In 2003, Two Gallants recorded a couple of tracks for The Sound of San Franciscocompilation put out by Alive/Bomp, and Alive immediately offered them a contract. The following year saw the release of the band's debut LP, The Throes, which garnered raves in Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, NME, and Vice Magazine("It's two good-looking dudes from San Francisco that sound exactly like backwoods-ugly dudes from Nebraska"). Over the course of a very short time, the outfit has become one of S.F.'s most consistent draws, selling out shows with regularity -- you know, just like the White Stripes. Hmm ....

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