San Francisco is a tough town for live music because there's just so damn much of it.
Between the top-tier touring acts selling out huge venues and your best friend's cousin's band that you've been guilted into seeing three times despite their being terrible, sorting through the chaos of the city's live music scene to find a happy middle ground is no easy task.
This column is an attempt to solve that problem for you. We're going to take it one week at a time.
Experimental pop music can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
On one hand it can imply button-down indie rockers patting themselves on the back for getting stoned and playing with delay pedals instead of writing choruses. On the other hand, it can just as readily mean dudes in mock turtlenecks playing backwards loops of babies crying over bursts of dissonant static while other dudes in mock turtlenecks pretend to enjoy themselves.
Either way, there's a lot of absentminded touching of beards and hazy, yet completely serious, discussions about Glenn Bracna.
What it usually doesn't suggest is real, honest-to-goodness funespecially the type of fun that can, if left untreated, lead to dancing.
New York-based underground collective Gang Gang Dance is the type of band that manages to be steadfastly experimental while consistently pointing one ear towards smirking accessibility.
It's not out of the question to see someone actually get down at a Gang Gang Dance show.
The band mixes spacey electronics with live instrumentation as it dabbles in an endless parade of stylesdubstep and British grime one minute, 80s synth pop the nextcraeating a sound that's adventurous enough to warrant serious study but not so obtuse as to make that type of rigorous attention a necessity to enjoyment.
Australian quintet Boy & Bear sound like they're from Seattle, which really means they sound like they're from somewhere in Appalachia.
Somehow, while Americans were busy protesting someone trying to give them health care and/or #occupying various things, the rest of the world completely eliminated our competitive advantage in gently placing gorgeous chorale harmonies on top of rootsy folk arrangements.
No one can ever be sure what Thomas Friedman is actually talking about, but this is probably related.
Like world conquering U.K. imports Mumford & Sons, Boy & Bear take charming Americana and invest it with the spirit, less so the instrumentation, of driving, mid-90s, radio-friendly alt-rock.
I'm not precisely sure how this happened but Thee Oh Sees, the reigning kings of the trashiest end of the Bay Area garage rock scene, are somehow getting simultaneously getting weirder and more popular as time goes on.
In just the past year, the band has embraced 11-minute kraut rock jams, ditched 11-minute kraut rock jams, added a second drummer, released an album of stripped-down bedroom psychedelia, recorded another album showcasing it's jazzy side and released a slew of singles and one-off songs.
In the world of the band's hyper-prolific frontman, John Dwyer, that's what's called a "slow year."
From the moment it became possible to hit a button on your phone, say the name of the song you wanted to hear, have it automatically do a Google search and start playing the song almost instantly, it officially became the future.
While there are a lot of things that the future does well, classic rock is generally not one of them. This is a shame because there's a lot more life left in the genre than retro-minded bands rewriting "Born To Be Wild" for millionth time would lead one to believe.
Take Full On Flyhead, for example. While remaining fundamentally a classic rock band, Full On Flyhead takes the most head-banging corner of classic rock and keeps it fresh by filtering it though funky chops and enough prog-metal guitars to make the guys in Tool do instead of smiling.
Fountains of Wayne's breakout hit "Stacy's Mom," present a conundrum.
It's objectively terriblethe worst kind of bubble gum pop jam packed with cheesy innuendos and a ham-fisted guitar solo.
However, at the same time, it may be the world's most perfect song. Not only it is a better song than anyone you know has ever written, it's better than anything anyone they know has ever written. That chain keeps extending ad infinitum until it hits someone whose uncle's best friend's cousin once played squash with Randy Newman's podiatrist.
The thing is, New Jersey's finest power poppers easily have over a dozen songs that are just as good.
The band accomplishes this feat by ignoring the fickle whims of whatever is popular this blog-cycle and writes timeless songs about situations infinitely more specific than any of their contemporaries.
How many other bands could get away with writing songs about flirting with a clerk at the DMV, a drunken middle-manager losing his wallet at an airport or two TV news anchors falling in love and keep the cheeky humor inherent in each of those situation enough in check to let a river of real pathos shine through?
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