Scissors for Lefty bring back the fun

The most encouraging music trend this century is the triumph of the "indie" act. Thanks to the democratization of distribution outlets and blogging enthusiasts, credible underground artists like Arcade Fire have transformed into global pop heroes. It's a force infecting the entire West Coast, with intrepid performers like Portland's Decemberists, ex-Seattleites Band of Horses, and Los Angeles' Silversun Pickups graduating from moderate gigs to making repeat appearances on festival circuits.

While that's sweet news for our neighbors, where are our new local heroes? Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was San Francisco's last big indie-to-international rock stars, and since their big break in 2000 (by which time they'd moved out of town) there hasn't been another radio-friendly rock act tilting the industry floodlight our way in a while. But there's always hope, right? Maybe we can hang those aspirations on Scissors for Lefty.

At the very least, Scissors is a strong contender, partly because the band captures San Francisco's playfulness while crafting stylish romantic melodies. In a metropolis embracing zombie-prom flash mobs, downtown pillow fights, and foot races with Bone-Air flight attendants, we're severely lacking in catchy modern rockers with funny bones. Scissors rescues great pop music from grand self-seriousness — they're fun.

The band members staged their gunning-down-and-return-to-life-as-zombies at a Halloween show, goofed around as old men in a nursing home for a music video, and bared close to all in red bodysuits for the SF MOMA's recent chi chi Modern Ball fundraiser. "We came on stage and were confident for about 30 seconds," says frontman Bryan Garza with a giggle about the museum bash. "The crowd was a little more hoity-toity than we expected and we had zero ways of hiding by that point. But it didn't matter, we just tore each other's tops down, what the hell." Despite the puzzled reaction from the MOMA patrons, he says that San Francisco is a city that embraces flamboyance. "This is an excuse to shake the nerves out, half Flashdance, half weirding out. I don't know if we'd do red leotards again, though," he adds with another laugh. "That was a bit nerve racking."

The unpretentious antics are what first made Scissors for Lefty memorable to me. Against severely earnest indie pop, Scissors' refusal to always act like grown-ups is refreshing. But in the end all the Clark Kent costuming won't stick if the songs don't back up the bluster. Scissors — comprising Garza, his brother Stevie, uncle Robbie, and Kimmel brothers Peter and James — luckily also have a keen pop ear. Live 105 music director Aaron Axelsen was an early advocate of the group. "They're a band with the potential to cross over from a Soundcheck," he says of the Sunday new music show where he plays their singles. "I think the new record is commercially palatable enough that it could harbor a single that could be playlisted on a major-market radio station."

Soundcheck boosterism helps, but Scissors isn't sitting around waiting for radio play. The group has toured with U.K. darlings Arctic Monkeys and Dirty Pretty Things, while preening for prime time on the international festival circuit. Sipping cocoa near his SOMA practice space, Garza recounts Scissors for Lefty's Eurofest resume: the U.K.'s prestigious Reading and Leeds gatherings, Indian Summer, Hurricane, Southside, something in Brighton. "I think we've played seven big festivals over there," he says, "anywhere from the size of a Noise Pop to bigger than Coachella." Not bad for a group with only one self-released album, Bruno, in stores.

This month Scissors has even more to discuss than its flair for impressing trans-Atlantic revelers. June 12 marks the release of its spirited full-length, Underhanded Romance. Beck engineer Charles Goodan produced the disc, which will be released on indie Eenie Meenie Records nationally, while overseas support comes from the reputable Rough Trade, the label that was an early home for the Strokes.

Romanceis all about making fun in the big city. Garza sings of hanging out in the Mission, hustling up thrifty entertainment ("Nickels and Dimes" is an ode to holding "a rooftop for ransom, charge 'em a cupcake admittance"), and hitting house parties where dancing goes on all night regardless of noise complaints. Romances blossom and wilt, ah well, and on "Mama Your Boys Will Find a Home" Garza explains that his marrying days will have to wait until this twentysomething fever runs its course ("Pair of brothers, hear our heart beat, love 'em long time, 'bout two weeks.") The singer's flirtatiously affected delivery (he sounds vaguely British when he sings) splinters into dramatic sighs, yelps, and whistles — and demands amid handclaps on "Got Your Moments" that "you better seize this moment, let's don't dare disown it, let's make out."

The band's aesthetic brushes against giant pop icons — the Pretenders ("Next to Argyle"), Blondie ("Got Your Moments"), even Prince's "Little Red Corvette" in the staccato buildup to the chorus of "Mama Your Boys Will Find a Home" — while offering the lower-budget allure of a disco-bound Strokes-meets-Pulp sound.

"[Romance] embodies the spirit and aesthetic of the city," says Axelsen. "There's a bit of playfulness, a little bit of art rock; it's cheeky, it's a bit humorous, it has cool style points. Maybe I'm a bit skewed because I see it through [the world of] going to cool clubs and just hanging out, and this is the soundtrack to that world."

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