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YEAR IN MUSIC: Bay Area rock staked its claim while critical darlings turned bogus in 2010

Abe Pedroza, Shaun Durkan, and Kevin Johnson of Weekend brought Bay rock bliss


MUSIC Why did Bay Area rock rule in 2010? As top 10 lists fall like snowflakes, there's no reason not to count the reasons. The first for me is "Age Class," by Weekend. Here is the sound of shoegaze sharpened into an attack. Evoking Loop on adrenaline (not amphetamine), the song is an example of a young band making an old sound new — it has age and class. The hook of the song resides in the way Shaun Durkan's voice manages to match and maybe even outdo the ferocity of the guitar, bass, and drums as he repeats the core lyric: "There's something in our blood." As he draws out the word blood and makes it rise, he taps into something human, maybe sinister, and definitely at the heart of rock 'n' roll.

What is that something in the blood? It could be many things, but reduced to the realm of Bay Area rock, it's imagination and vitality. Weekend's debut album Sports is traditionally classic in formal presentation, and it serves notice of a group that is likely to become big. Like many recent bands, Durkan and bandmates Abe Pedroza and Kevin Johnson tap into the late 1980s and early '90s whirlpools of shoegaze. But unlike many peers, they match it with dark, serrated edges characteristic of post-punk. Weekend may have various writers namedropping Joy Division, but for a trio of guys in their early twenties, they sound very much like themselves.

This command extends from sound to vision with Durkan and Johnson's video for a pair of songs on their album, "Monday Morning/Monongah, WV." Shot beautifully in widescreen, its suburban fable adds potent surreality to Larry Clark-like teen hijinks, simply by replacing taken-for-granted water with an oil-like black liquid. Clocking in at over seven minutes and successfully fusing two songs to each other to form one narrative, "Monday Morning/Monongah, WV" breaks out of standard music video tropes to work as a film.

Which brings me to reason No. 2: Some of the best current Bay Area music is wedded to a visual flair and style born from life rather than glossy magazines. For examples, one need look no further than Justin Kelly's videos for Hunx and His Punx, and thrift-shop owner Hunx's perverse looks — just this month, he debuted one that he'd nicknamed "Barefoot Contessa Egghead Dracula" onstage at a downtown museum, and in the summer, he landed in the pages of Vogue Italia and Les Inrockuptibles. Likewise, Skye Thorstenson's video — self-contained as a vintage Warner Bros. cartoon — for Myles Cooper's "Gonna Find Boyfriends Today" successfully cast the performer as a 21st-century Mister Rogers or Pee-wee Herman, and made him a pop phenom in the British music press.

Cooper may be big in England, and Hunx may be stripped bare onstage in Paris, but there's a gap between their do-it-yourself feats and the mainstream music press as represented by Pitchfork. I'd like to say that sexual preferences-turned-prejudices have nothing to do with it, but while Pitchfork has celebrated the neo-rave twists of Teengirl Fantasy, they've shown no interest in Nick Weiss of that group's new gay pop collabos with Hunx and with Alexis, tracks that perfectly fit into the site's established fetish for synth pop.

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