By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Fans of retro-minded indie pop that tries as hard as it can to push past its low-budget boundaries might want to get their paisley shirts dry-cleaned today, as a quartet of well-regarded touring bands hits Dallas this weekend for two shows that should offer plenty in the way of reconstructed psychedelic poesy and waylaid twentysomething careerism.
The San Francisco outfit Beulah, which headlines Trees on Friday night, has come the closest to proving that revivifying circa-1960s pop isn't a total waste of time: On last year's The Coast Is Never Clear, the group's third full-length, bandleader Miles Kurosky and his rotating cast of sidepeople packed Kurosky's songs with so much wide-eyed enthusiasm and so many tasty recording-studio details that the music actually took on a life of its own, partially free of the bookish referentiality many of Kurosky's peers get bogged down in and thus specific enough to function as its own artifact. Kurosky achieves much of that by subverting his tirelessly ebullient songs with darker-edged narratives: "This is gonna hurt, kid/You better hold on tight/You know all those drugs you take/Cannot help save your soul," he sings on "What Will You Do When Your Suntan Fades?" a gorgeous song that otherwise slips and slides like hot Coppertone at the beach. That formal friction isn't a new trick, of course--even Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney got around to it, eventually--but it sure helps when everybody else is still geeking on their new GTOs.
Opener Quentin Stoltzfus, who, like Kurosky, is the sun around which the Philadelphia band Mazarin revolves, is also interested in keeping his pretty pop songs relevant to people his age, which is why he filled A Tall-Tale Storyline, his album last year for the retro-pop boutique spinART, with all sorts of whirring electronic noises and dense guitar textures. The filigree doesn't distract from Stoltzfus' tunes, though, which are nearly as sunny as Kurosky's; it just acknowledges the 30 years of detritus that's accumulated around guitar pop since Wilson and McCartney had their way with it.
If that's not enough detritus for you, Sunday night's bill at Rubber Gloves might be more up your alley. Kevin Barnes, the Georgia native who heads Of Montreal, a central constituent of the sprawling Elephant 6 collective to which Beulah is also connected, seems to have made distraction his prime directive: His records contain excruciatingly simple pop songs at their cores, yet Barnes piles on so much folderol--backing vocals, auxiliary percussion, woodwinds, strings, the sound of the ice cream truck passing by--it's hard to parse out where his love of the Beatles ends and where his passion for Captain Beefheart begins. Last year's Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse (see?) is an intriguing listen, but there's not an ounce of Beulah's accomplished accessibility in its rococo excess--approach Barnes on his own terms or risk being swallowed alive by a choir of small sugar-frenzied children.
Or just show up early and catch Montreal member Andy Gonzales' set as the Marshmallow Coast. His new album, the curiously titled Ride the Lightning, features lots of weird instrumental doodling and some of the same circus-peanut ambience that Barnes favors, but its best moments are during cool, jazz-flavored songs like "Oblivion" and "Classifieds," where Gonzales matches his taste for pop's outer edges with a slacker's devotion to self-evident truths. And if he can't sing a note to save his life? Consider the voice lessons a killer tax write-off.