Agony Shorthand

Monday, August 18, 2003
VARIOUS ARTISTS : “FRISCO STYLES”…..I’ve always tried to straddle the line between being a “hometowner”, hyping my local bands in whatever forum I’m writing in way past the point of objectivity, and an out-and-out local skeptic – realizing that while it may play well in San Francisco (my hometown, by the way), other metropolitan areas’ bands/scenes/clubs/whatever are far more interesting, and I’d easily be able to see how lame it is here if only I lived elsewhere. I definitely trended toward the former in the early 90s, and perhaps I was on to something – my local faves back then were THINKING FELLERS UNION LOCAL 282, the MUMMIES, WORD OF POOH, DWARVES, anything involving BARBARA MANNING, ICKY BOYFRIENDS and SUPERCHARGER. Not the worst rock and roll scene in America, right? But intervening years weren’t kind to my city. San Francisco has often seemed to engender musical acts that rub several of my – and maybe your – sore spots very hard: there are far too many wacky, unfunny dress-up bands; many tend to be mired in unthinking, platitude-filled far left politics (60s baggage that never left), or are given to the turgid miasma of confessional singer/songwriterdom. Such seemed to be the case from about 1994-on, with some bold exceptions, until a vibrant new scene appeared in recent years with strong, young, experimental bands centering themselves on both sides of the SF Bay. These young pups ranged from the spazz-robot punk of NUMBERS and ERASE ERRATA to the death disco of CRACK: WE ARE ROCK to the bizarre acid/fuzz/biker metal of COMETS ON FIRE, and further onward to a ton more I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing live. It was thus that I decided to purchase this 48-track double CD called “FRISCO STYLES” in hopes of finding, at long last, my rekindled scene – and in so doing, maybe just a little piece of myself.

Granted my BS detector has ripened with advancing age, so I believe I’ve got a far higher quality threshold than I used to. I'm going to try real, real hard to not be especially cynical -- nothing's worse than a fusty, cranky sourpuss who was there when it really mattered. I'm making no such claims, either. But this compilation delivers the goods far too rarely, I’m afraid – it’s a “regional comp” in every sense of the phrase, with the large amounts of dreck and filler that implies. There are a handful of knockouts, though. I’m strongly impressed with CONDOR and their pounding synth/darkwave track “Go No Dull”. When I saw them live about 18 months ago I couldn’t get over the fact that someone told me that their vocalist "played" Morrissey in a SMITHS cover band, so it was hard to visually get back “in the moment”. But this is first-rate Screamers-style crunch. There’s also the lush nuanced pop of the AISLERS SET, a band who not without some merit get compared to BELLE & SEBASTIAN at every turn, but who boast a terrific sound that I’d like to hear more of. A slight notch down from those are ZMRZLINA, who sound like something off of one of Chuck Warner’s “Homework” CDs, NAM, ZEIGENBOCK KOPF (fake gay German industrial techno band; I'm sure every town's got one), COACHWHIPS, MR. & MR. & MRS. EVIL, the blank-faced drone of CRACK: WE ARE ROCK and the always first-rate electro spazz-core sweethearts ERASE ERRATA. That’s about it – another couple of listens might serve up a few more passable numbers, but overall, it’s a pretty thin gruel.

The worst offenders on the whole thing are SHOTWELL, who kick off their appallingly bad “popcore” drivel “Patriot” with a head-in-the-anus speech that mockingly dedicates the song “…(to) people who holding on to the true belief that capitalism is a viable entity under democracy. It’s not. People never wanted capitalism, and they never will“. Riiiiiight. San Francisco, folks. These are my peeps. VIRGIL SHAW contribute their entry to the “worst example of incompetant fake alt-country covers, ever” award, and right now they’re my odds-on favorite to win it all. Hey, you think PEGGY HONEYWELL's ever heard a Cat Power record? You think? And what happened to VIRGINIA DARE? 10 years ago this band was creating absolutely shimmering country-tinged, autoharp-driven pop music; today they’re doing exactly the same thing almost to the point of parodying themselves, minus the shimmer and adding a meaningless cultural commentary on the agony of having to live “in a consumer society”. Oh, the pathos! (UPDATE: I may have been a bit off on this one; if this in indeed an X-Ray Spex cover, then it just happens to be a throwaway "save it for a compilation" track. I still heart Virginia Dare). Anyway, here it is: San Francisco, 2003. Things were so much better in the days of STICKDOG and CAROLINER, *sigh*. See you in the pit!