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Sleep Genius Records, Non-Singing Singers, Punk Reunions 

Wednesday, May 7 2014

The aptly named "(This Is Why We Can't Have) Nice Things" by Bad News is a riotous and enthralling track that's over too soon after nearly seven minutes. Bristling with electronic damage and vocals like anguished incantations, an assaultive drum machine propels the song through passages of alternately harsh and sparse industrial clamor. Chasms' "Bad Evolution" is a woozy, downtempo hymn, with just a sluggish beat and weary vocals to underpin the noise. "Still Life," by Never Knows, sets foreboding vocals atop stark keyboards and electronic percussion, a balanced pop composition garbed by severe tones and menacing atmosphere.

Bad News, Chasms, and Never Knows are all local, and these three songs appear on 7-inches released by Sleep Genius, a record label "born out of the San Francisco fog." That description encapsulates the roster's mood nicely, since Sleep Genius releases evoke the twilight afterglow of parties you didn't attend, or somnambulant jaunts through the city. A more concrete commonality of Sleep Genius artists is the presence of synthesizers and drum machines. Many releases were recorded by label operator Brad DerManouelian at his home studio. Bad News, Chasms, and Never Knows are all set to perform at Sleep Genius' label showcase, along with Cry and Ringo Deathstarr, at Thee Parkside, on Saturday, May 10.

Firstly, The Nels Cline Singers are an instrumental trio. The word "sing" gets at what the group does with instruments better than the word "play," because each member is an amazingly expressive performer. The recently released Macroscope is the group's fifth studio album, and it's an exhilarating display of jazz improvisation and nuanced interplay. Named for Wilco guitarist and prolific bandleader Nels Cline, the group conjures unwieldy climaxes and then wrestles them back into submission. Notably, Macroscope boasts 10 tracks in just under an hour, numbers that illustrate a welcome restraint and sense of structural economy that's often lost to free-jazz indulgence. But it also illuminates the group's inspiration in the sheer number of ideas it's eager to present. The Nels Cline Singers, er, sing, on Friday, May 9, at The Chapel.

The legacy punk reunion tour is a familiar bit of drudgery: Elder statesmen of the scene bring pro gear to pro club and recite their juvenile ditties well enough to elicit nostalgia, and it all makes a quaint, harmless night out. Fair enough, but there's another tier of punk reunion that isn't so predictable, like the upcoming appearance from 1980s Italian hardcore band E.U.'s Arse at El Rio on Sunday, May 11. Instead of a midsize, professional venue, this show is at a small bar, with upstart punk bands opening. Vintage recordings of E.U.'s Arse depict a scrappy, shambolic wreck of strangulated vocals and squealing riffs. Rather than wondering if E.U.'s Arse is any good live nowadays, the appeal of this reunion lies in whether the band could still be such a mess.

About The Author

Sam Lefebvre


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