ESTER DRANG

Rocinate

(Jade Tree)

Since 1995, the Oklahoma natives of Ester Drang have been trekking northward. The band's journey has extended to their tour circuit and side projects — percussionist James McAlister and guitarist Jeff Shoop are both featured prominently on Sufjan Stevens's Illinois — and to their passion for wider expanses of sound.

On Rocinate, the multi-instrumental trio throb toward a dreamscape at the edge of the world. Showcasing high-minded yet groove-oriented tracks ("Great Expectations," "Proustian Moments"), the album is atmospheric and amoebic like the Northern Lights. Throughout, there is a sense of heartfelt conversation, of witnessing something fantastic.

Sigur Rós–type melodic repetitions build over delightfully fuzzy, intricate breakbeats recalling the late-'90s work of fellow Okies the Flaming Lips. The overall sound is impossible to break apart. Yet singer and multi-instrumentalist Bryce Chambers's vocal drone lacks a certain oomph. Whether crooning "Come back tonight / Come back alive" or "I'm dying just to be with you," he never quite commits to the emotional pull found in the ballads of Brian Eno but also refuses to just speak his angsty mind. At best, he recalls Teenage Fanclub's noise-pop sweetness. At his worst, one wishes that the awesome trip-hop in the background would shine through. When it does — in "Caledonia" and "Smoke and Air" — tight interactions light up the dance floor and illuminate our nights. (Ari Messer)

ANNA OXYGEN

This Is an Exercise

(Kill Rock Stars)

In 2003, when she released her debut, All Your Faded Things (Cold Crush), Anna Oxygen was largely dismissed as a latecomer to the waning electroclash movement. It was an easy mistake to make — the Portland, Ore., singer certainly championed the '80s synth-pop aesthetic that was so popular at the time. But she was actually far more innovative than the acts typically associated with that fashionable pan flash, incorporating trippy video projections, bedroom-mirror dance moves, and audience interaction into her refreshingly unironic performances. Three years later, Oxygen continues to prove she's too talented for the 'clash tag with This Is an Exercise, a hypnotic blend of icy, aerobicized beats and deeply dramatic vocals that should finally earn her some long overdue respect.

It should also, thanks to some serious lyrical flights of fancy, finally convince listeners that Oxygen's nothing like Peaches, et al. With a seemingly magnetic-poetry approach to songwriting, she fills her second album with surrealistic wordplay — e.g., "There's a calorie looking for the end of the rainbow" — that's infinitely mockable on paper yet sounds thrilling when delivered in her operatic, Alison Moyet–like trill. And really, why waste such an otherworldly voice on mundane subject matter? Artists sing about love and sex all the time, but Oxygen's undoubtedly the only one ever to pen electro paeans to fairies, fish, and, um, fake pajamas. In other words, Exercise is a hippie-dippy dance lover's delight — not surprising considering that Oxygen uses the liner notes to thank "spirit questers, dragonflies, deep trippers, [and] rainbow divers." (Jimmy Draper)

ANNA OXYGEN

March 26, 9:30 p.m.

Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF

$6

(415) 923-0923