February 19, 2003

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My own private Noise Pop
By Lynn Rapoport

I'VE HEARD QUITE a few explanations for Noise Pop over the past decade – something for people to do in February, a new subdivisive category for indie rockers to squabble over, the inarguable "we like these bands." However, nobody seems to use "noise pop" to describe a sound anymore, and maybe nobody would know what was meant, unless the user added a qualifier like "circa '94" for that soupçon of lip-curling pretentiousness. And I never really noticed there being less noise, pop, or any other type of rock and roll in February than in January, May, or late July, but maybe my rock elders fought that battle so I wouldn't have to, and kids today don't know how lucky they are to have so much Noise Pop.

I need to remember that when I start complaining about being too old to leave the house for rock six nights in a row; about indie rockers in half-empty cars who won't pick up frail, harmless-looking hitchhikers on their way home from Bottom of the Hill, though they've all been listening to music in the same room for two hours and are all going back to the Mission; about the puzzling shortage of female performers and the programs' smattering of boring, overhyped headliners; about the patrons of Cafe du Nord, who seem to be genetically predisposed to disrupting quiet sets of folk rock with loud, irrelevant commentary on what their beer tastes like.

What really matters is that Chan Marshall just might be so excited about her new, looooong-awaited album that she'll leave a few songs unfractured by her own distracted commentary; that Smog – sorry, (smog) – is playing three times in one week; and that this is the year I will finally see John Darnielle perform, after cursed years of missed opportunities, owing to emergency-room visits, cash-flow problems, and the capriciousness of the 22 Fillmore. It's important to have goals, and those are mine. Also to see San Diego's No Knife, who are not to blame for the fact that somebody invented the word post-punk; and alaska!, Imaad from lowercase and Jason from Sebadoh's band, who are not to be confused with Built like Alaska, who play the same night with the Stratford 4, one of the dreamiest, swooniest bands San Francisco can afford these days, and Camper Van Beethoven, who afforded my first moment of up-close starstruckedness five years ago when I discovered that the bass player worked at a desk not 50 feet distant from mine. Also Ill Lit, whose song "Diner Girls" I played 14 times one day last year. And Peggy Honeywell, a sweet-voiced romantic pining for the good times, who doesn't sound like the type to say mean things but may want to rehearse a few sniper shots before she gets onstage at du Nord. And Milemarker, because Claire from Running Ragged once told me they were one of her favorite groups ever, and because one Christian Steinmetz's open-letter critique of Milemarker inspired the band to put a page on their Web site titled Critical Theory on Milemarker (www.milemarker.org/milemarker/bulk/critical.html), and I have to know more.

Some might see critical theory as a turnoff. But one of the things I've noticed about Noise Pop's programming of late is that because there seems to be no method whatsoever to it (which would explain why Wednesday's four headliners are Trans Am, Cat Power, the Donnas, and Dead Moon), you can have whatever kind of Noise Pop you feel like, whether you're in favor of boys with beer guts and girls in tight jeans, sun-inflected country for urban cowboys and desert-suicide wanna-bes, esoterically inclined musicians whose reviews consistently include the word angular, or guitar-toting solo singers of all modes – soulfully haunted, morally ambiguous, or self-obsessed. My own private Noise Pop, which will no doubt be overattended, is looking rather disjointed but will probably turn out to be best described as the Noise Pop for bands who would make you wonder, "What are they doing here?" if you hadn't given up asking that question years ago.