Ari Messer

What comes around

In The Cycle Plays, Theatre of Yugen looks to uncover a spirit in every tone
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PREVIEW Until stumbling on The Wishing Bone Cycle some years back, I hadn't wondered why owls die with wings outspread or how a man wearing antlers on his head can be tricked into thinking that real moose are after him. Yet Howard Norman's eye-opening transcription-translations of Swampy Cree narrative poems are so arresting that I still find new questions in my life just to bring them to the stories. The tales invariably answer with bigger inquiries of their own. Read more »

Prints charming

In a new SoMa location, Electric Works is building the Land of Yes
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PREVIEW If only it were prix fixe. The lamb curry wrapped in crystallized mint leaves sounds delectable, but the butternut squash ravioli catch your eye first. Then you notice that one of the items on the menu is made entirely with ingredients from the chef's garden. The choice is obvious. As you munch on homegrown multicolored heirloom tomatoes, conversation turns to how much is in our own backyards. Read more »

MCMAF: Collective hip noises

With Buy Hidden Persuaders, I Am Spoonbender continue to remove our veils
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Should you take this life seriously enough to listen to it, I would suggest you head to local electro-organic thinkers I Am Spoonbender's Web site right now, before you read this story, and download the trailer for their latest self-released album, Buy Hidden Persuaders (IAS, 2006), another three-sided disc (their gorgeous Teletwin 12-inch had concurrent grooves on one side, allowing for a randomly asserted listening experience) from the wizards of esoteric musical realism. Read more »

Noise Pop: Midlake of the storm

Midlake make a logical afternoon appearance
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It makes sense that Denton, Texas, quintet Midlake will be giving an afternoon performance at Noise Pop. Not only do their music videos, which often feature strange creature masks and nightmarish situations just on the edge of reality, stay with me well into the next day's daydreams, but their music deserves our full attention. After they were signed by the United Kingdom's Bella Union, they started playing Europe, and the castles-and-robbers imagery in their "Bandits" video may come from sneaking into the hills while on tour. Read more »

Noise Pop: Cats have nine lives

Sebadoh have at least three
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Few numbers are as loaded as three. From the Holy Trinity to the three main spiritual channels in our bodies described by kabbalists and yogis alike, spiritual triads exist alongside musical forms of threeness: the exponential sound of the power trio, great albums named III, and, indeed, Loudon Wainwright III.

The trio Sebadoh, early harbingers of indie rock, had their own III back in 1991, trading off instruments and artistic wills to make 23 wonderfully unpredictable tracks of folk-core meanderings and spastic noise rock shape-shifting. Read more »

Robe of glory

Geoff Muldaur considers himself lucky
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"The Jim Kweskin Jug Band was sort of the first group of goofballs who didn't wear uniforms, who didn't have set patter. It was the acoustic precursor of the Grateful Dead," Geoff Muldaur says on the phone from Los Angeles. "Bob Weir got our first album and ran over to Jerry and said, 'We've gotta form a jug band. You've gotta hear this shit!' "

Before iTunes and Pandora.com, getting your hands on a new record was sometimes like receiving a password to a part of your spirit you didn't know existed. Read more »

Believe the buzz

The Makes Nice lick freakbeat candy wrappers for the benefit of all
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Signed to Frenetic Records and publicized by Fanatic Promotion, local boys–made–groovy the Makes Nice are surprisingly mellow. Perhaps they've been consorting with a resurrected British freakbeat muse — it's been "more relaxed than you'd think, given the name and all," vocalist-guitarist Josh Smith writes via e-mail, discussing the group's deal with Frenetic. The San Francisco label — also home to releases by one of Smith's previous bands, the Fucking Champs — is proving an ideal base for these kind and raucous rockers. Read more »

Rock between wars: Ecstatic Sunshine

No boring moments on the zippy Freckle Wars
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Vocalless but intensely lyrical electric-guitar duo Ecstatic Sunshine take risks on their first non-CD-R release, Freckle Wars (Carpark) — namely by eschewing a drummer or even a drum machine despite a tendency to craft manic post-rock buildups that seem to predict explosive toms and thundering cymbals. But these happy rockers are more interested in preparing sunshine than predicting rain. For two guys with guitars, they make remarkably unindulgent music.
"Most of the songs took us months to write," Ecstatic Sunshiner Dustin Wong said on the phone from the group's Baltimore practice space. Read more »

Air Americana

Tangled up in Silver Jews
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Madonna and her scantily-clad kabbalah practice may have been ousted by the Russian Orthodox Church, but rest assured, oh ye faithful, the Silver Jews are finally coming to San Francisco. The band, often mislabeled as a Pavement side project, actually coalesced before Pavement, though the two backstories share a history of caustic revelation.
David Berman, guitarist-vocalist Stephen Malkmus, and drummer Bob Nastanovich formed the Silver Jews in 1989 while students at the University of Virginia. After graduation, they took the budding project with them to New York. Read more »

Northern composure

Victoria's Shapes and Sizes unfold before our ears
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Four years ago, a high school junior named Britney Gallivan managed to fold a piece of paper in half 12 times, surpassing the eight-fold limit with a 4,000-foot-long piece of special toilet paper. For this girl, origami became more than paper frogs, cootie catchers, and hope-giving cranes. But those cranes are still essential. The four sprightly members of Shapes and Sizes do a lot of musical origami and showy unfolding on their self-titled debut. Read more »