Happy gang-bang Muzak? Still Flyin' and Papercuts keep close to home. Plus: Crookers, Zodiac Death Valley, and more
SONIC REDUCER April showers, worried world powers, CD towers it's tough to keep the kite-high ebullience, party vibes, and gotta-jet wings in flight during tough times. Bands come and go, move to Brooklyn (otherwise known as Break-Up-Land), and wither away in day jobs. So dole out a few propers to locals who brave the unofficial buy-nothing year of 2009 with new shiny plastic discs as they bid to become, erm, the next "secret show"-happy Green Day, revving up for Berkeley Rep, or Guitar Hero-hooked Metallica, currently gathering massive TV exposure via that goofy prime-time commercial.
Even the least likely to hunker down and deliver namely the hard-smokin' party hearties of Still Flyin' are casting aside the bakin' dog lethargy and finally issuing a first album, Never Gonna Touch the Ground (Ernest Jenning). Love 'em or hate 'em, the brazenly silly 15-plus supergroup has finally found its footing amid the current wave of indie rock fun-seekers, a phenom (the Polyphonic Spree, Of Montreal, Tilly and the Wall, Broken Social Scene) characterized by collective-minded sprawl, theatricality, audience-friendliness, and dance jams (Still Flyin' likes to call theirs HAMMJAMMS, but never mind that). Is "happy gang-bang Muzak" too raw a phrase to lay on it?
Headed by Athens, Ga., refugee Sean Rawls and boasting such members as ex-Aisler Set-ees Yoshi Nakamoto and Alicia Vanden Heuvel and former Architecture in Helsinki-ite Isobel Knowles, Still Flyin' flies in the face of perceived indie elitism with a sound that fuses group-vocal pale-faced two-tone and lilting, '80s-era Haircut 100 and Tom Tom Club lite tropi-pop. It's present on the band's title theme, on the anthemic ska workout "Forever Dudes," and on the bubbly vaca-rock of "Following the Itinerary." Yes, Still Flyin' has an antidote to the economic woes that ail ya the oughta-be-a-pop-hit "Good Thing It's a Ghost Town Around Here" embraces the darkness that the Specials once dreaded. Ignore throwaways like the self-mocking "Act of Jamming," and you start to believe that the infectious Never Gonna just might achieve liftoff, especially if the group continues to get live crowds onto its party bus.
Never Gonna was partly recorded on weekends by Jason Quever at his Excelsior District home studio, Pan American, and it shows: the disc sounds just as toasty warm as the new You Can Have What You Want (Gnomonsong) by Quever's Papercuts. Thanks to its Clientele-like mid-'60s folk pop, 2007's Can't Go Back promised to be Quever's breakout recording, landing on Devendra Banhart and Andy Cabic's Gnomonsong imprint with a hushed splash. You Can Have is a new mode of dreaming one prone to bouts of levitation. Helped by Beach House's Alex Scally, Lazarus' Trevor Montgomery, Skygreen Leopards' Glenn Donaldson, artist-filmmaker David Enos, and Helene Renaut, Quever conjures haunted carousels and the drift of spooked spaceships on tracks like "Once We Walked in the Sunlight," "A Peculiar Hallelujah," and "Jet Plane." Obsessively analog-centric and bewitched by dream pop, yé-yé, Floyd, and an earthbound breed of Krautrock, he makes it impossible to resist the surprisingly light-hearted charms of "A Dictator's Lament" and You Can Have's overall stately high. Papercuts, we are floating in space ...
The rock 'n' roll rave-ups and in-the-red rawness of the Sir Lord Raven's new Please Throw Me Back in the Ocean (Happy Parts) tap into a whole 'nother brand: screw-it-all naughty snotty. "Maybe I'll jump in the river /Maybe I'll cut out my liver ... I'm tryin' /I keep on tryin'," sneers frontman Eric Von Ravenson, once of the Time Flys, on yeah, you got it "I Keep on Tryin'." Recorded by indispensable organ and guitar pinch-hitter Greg Ashley, with producer Jay Bronzini on drums, Please Throw Me slices the cheesiness thickly, with a sense of cut-and-run fun. It's throwback hence a cover version of Fats Domino's "I'm Ready" but not necessarily throwaway. I like a band unafraid to pay tribute to its true, unlovely loves, but I prefer originals like "Take It or Leave It," "Spit on Your Grave," and "PC Action," the latter two of which intentionally subvert the garage rock, allowing glitter to seep in. How many times can these zombie riffs rouse themselves and return to life? A little spit, piss, and vinegar should do ya.
April 24, 9:30 p.m., $10
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
May 9, 10 p.m., $10
Cafe du Nord
DAY 'N' NIGHT
Iron oar: check the rosy-cheeked, country-cabaret charm on Tippy Canoe and the Paddlemen's Parasols and Pekingese (self-released, 2008). With Blue Rabbit and Chelsea Wolfe. Wed/15, 9 p.m., $6. Hemlock Tavern,1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com 
Italians do it better meaning, play their way to Coachella. With Bloody Beetroots and Congorock. Wed/15, 9 p.m., $18 advance. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com 
The vitality of the SF psych-rockers' "cactus flower romanticism" (as Todd Lavoie once put it) is evident on their self-released, self-titled EP. With Golden Animals and Broads. Thurs/16, 9 p.m., $6. Thee Parkside, 1600 17th St., SF. www.theeparkside.com 
Indie slow jams that include a dose of Morodor-esque synth seduction, anyone? With Sebastien Tellier. Fri/17, 9 p.m., $15. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com 
Expect mega intensity when the Xiu Xiu mastermind ventures out for his first solo tour in five years, drawing from 80-plus tunes including rarely-heard older numbers and new songs from 2010's Dear God, I Hate Myself. And get ready to pose for Stewart and artist David Horvitz as they photograph every person at every show for their blog-book project. With Dark Holler and Lady Genius. Fri/17, 9:30 p.m., $12. Cafe du Nord.