Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tumbleweed Wanderers, the SHE's, Xiu Xiu


Tumbleweed Wanderers EP

* * * 1/2

Remember that time when the Audiophiles were one of the best bands in the Bay Area? Us too, in part because it’s still more or less ongoing. Tumbleweed Wanderers, the band formed by ex-Audiophiles Jeremy Lyon and Zak Mandel-Romann after that group’s split, are fairly similar in their love of late-sixties/early-seventies Bay Area music, but the main difference between the two bands is that Tumbleweed Wanderers are by no means “alternative” or “indie.” The most noticeable manifestation of this is perhaps in the vocals--while Audiophile Greg Fleischut’s nasal vocals were more John Darnielle than John Fogerty, Lyon’s voice belongs distinctly to the “rock n’ roll” tradition. Their self-titled debut EP is just over fifteen minutes of quality neo-Fillmore West rock that at times recalls Sly (“Roll With The Times”), American Beauty-era Dead (“I Went Away”), or something quite new but with a distinctly vintage sheen (“Take It Back,” which Lyon released as a single about six months or so ago). Hooks and melodies are the Wanderers’ greatest strength, and each song is custom-built with a highly effective earworm. They may not offer the freshest or most musically interesting update on the vintage Bay Area sound, but the Wanderers are not trying by any means to be revolutionary or groundbreaking. They just want to choogle, and who’s to stop you from chooglin’ along?



* * * 1/2

Sami Perez is the SHE’s’ secret weapon. Though she is hard to notice on many of the band’s recordings, her bass is a formidable force live, and of the band members, she is the most willing to show off her chops. The first single from the San Francisco quartet’s upcoming debut full-length, Then It Starts To Feel Like Summer, is driven by a growling bassline that is nothing short of vicious. The remarkable thing is the way in which it is used--it is not so much joyfully aggressive as aggressively joyful. Like the SHE’s’ best material, “Jimmy” is sweet enough to flirt with the saccharine but manages to deftly avoid it, resulting in a tune with just enough sugar content to be stick to your brain and your teeth without hugging either one tight enough to compress it. When I finally find a boyfriend, this will be song I play while I change my relationship status.


“Daphny” / “Only Girl (In The World)”

* * / * * *

Another indie band covering a Top 40 hit? Well, here’s San Jose avant-rock crew Xiu Xiu doing Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In The World)," whether you like it or not, and the result is not only effective but completely logical. The song opens brilliantly, with warped, shrieking disco strings that seem to signal something wicked coming your way, before frontman Jamie Stewart commences moaning and gasping the song’s vaguely sadomasochistic lyrics. It’s interesting, but the chilling intro is the high point of the song, and it’s more rewarding to play the first minute and a half on repeat a few times than listen to the whole thing. “Daphny,” the A-side, is less musically interesting but does not even have the benefit of decent lyrics--Xiu Xiu is best known for their often disturbing candidness, and that song’s rape-oriented, pig carcass-referencing lyrics sound more like something Marilyn Manson would write than Xiu Xiu’s erotic-grotesque classics of yore.

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