I recently spent a week in New York thinking I was not going to the music industry clusterfuck CMJ. I was visiting my sister, checking out the nightlife, and eating too much delicious pizza in the wee hours before bed. But it ended up that most places we stumbled into just happened to have CMJ bands on stage. Go figure. Here's the attention-deficit disorder list of music marathoners caught by yours truly: Albert Hammond Jr. (Strokes guitarist goes solo, backed by dudes who enjoy playing together; songs are a hundred times better than that new Strokes crapola); the Black Lips (Atlanta's supreme garage rockers borrow equipment for a 3 a.m. basement show; the crowd pitches into a perilous frenzy fraught with intermittent showers of extra-sticky malt liquor); Vietnam (stoned Easy Riders turn the Velvet Underground into a jam band); the Horrors (critically hyped and over-hairdo'd young dudes revamped the Cramps on a jittery EP; live, not so much); and the Drones (an Australian band, which I wrote about last week, that's on fire, wrestling its instruments like there's evil to be choked out of those guitar necks; best act I saw all week).
But back on San Francisco soil I locked myself in a distraction- and pizza-free cell and pulled a little music marathon, Bay Area-style, listening to a handful of new local releases. Results below:
The Mall , Emergency at the Everyday (Secretariat Records). Dancy post-hardcore doesn't offer beats so much as beatdowns. Emergency is a fitting opening word for an album from which vocals spew like blood from stabbed arteries and Casio keys sound urgent alarms. Of course, the damage done here is of the “art” variety, so for every hairpin turn into high anxiety there's a lull in intensity to allow an actual dance rhythm to pulse on by. “Hospital Mouth” is a highly addictive bout of temporary (1 minute, 23 seconds) insanity, an explosion of guitar noise, militaristic percussion, and indiscernible vocal squalls. Another highlight: “Friends and Family,” which grinds loved ones through an aggressive synth punk disposal. This record makes songs lasting longer than 1 1/2 minutes sound like a waste of patience — although the closing two-minute coda is a cool salve for the rest of Emergency's fire. (The Mall plays Mezzanine Nov. 18.)
Brice Frillici , The Sun Comes in Circles (38th Parallel Records). Ex-Wisconsin kid Brice Frillici allows the sounds of the Mission District to waft into his recordings the way summer breezes carry the scent of grilled onions out from the taquerias. It's subtle, the inclusion of sirens and hustlers bustling around the beats on “On the Corner,” backgrounding the laid-back, bedroom-Beck funk of a song in a specifically urban locale. Frillici takes multiple shapes, as cascading vocals and piano keys keep the mood airy on the sun-baked “The Harlis,'” while the title track is a mix of Ariel Pink's warped AM pop and the Beach Boys' sky-high harmonies. On his MySpace page, Frillici claims that his band is known to “argue all the time” — must be tough when you're not only your own worst enemy, but also your only bandmate (the press photo is five Photoshop'd Bricelings seated at one booth).
Also out: Bob Frank & John Murry , World Without End (self-released). This duo (and a rotating cast of friends/instrumentalists) takes creepy true crimes and sets them to song. It's like John Marr's classic zine Murder Can Be Fun gone grizzly country balladry.
Elephone , The Camera Behind the Camera (Three Ring Records). Grandiose pop settles into a wintry mood on Elephone's new disc. Vocals quiver, guitars set their sights to “shoegaze,” and the drowning emotions sink amid an onslaught of similar acts moping around the same Radiohead/Every Move a Picture watering hole. Call it “dreamo” (emo + dream pop), but a little levity here would have gone a long way. (Elephone plays Club Six Nov. 16.)
The Lightning Bug Situation , (self-released). This eponymous new release contains tones much more understated and intimate than Elephone's. The Situation is the work of Brian Miller, who plays in the Speakers and is Jolie Holland's guitarist. Here he uses everything from an accordion to the wistful warble of a musical saw to augment his disconsolate pop. The sound is similar to that of Smog's Bill Callahan, in which gray clouds cling even to the brightest instrumental patches.