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Getting zoned with Psychic Ills 

Wednesday, May 3 2006
Call it attack of the drones, but left-field rock is getting downright hypnotic. Skyscraping walls of shoegazing sound aren't just getting constantly re-erected; they're lulling listeners into blissful comas through low guitar hums and druggy pop sediment. On one side of this new class of Spacemen you have artists like the Black Angels and the Warlocks, who attempt to revise the salvation found in Jesus and Mary Chain's orchestral feedback while planting firm rock hooks within that shroud of effects. Alternately, there's a loose collection of Can-fed misfits who don't structure songs as much as allow them to unravel, pulling at strings to see how long that post-hippie trance fest can hold together. That crew includes the acid-casualties of Vietnam, the magical mushrooming of Gang Gang Dance's tribal noodling, and GGD's Social Registry labelmates, the Psychic Ills . That last act is slowly infecting listeners outside its New York home, as its debut, Dins, finally gets a proper West Coast tour (with peers Blood on the Wall; they play together on Monday, May 8, at Bottom of the Hill at 9 p.m.).

Dins is a low-flying spacecraft, resonating with drum-circle percussion and white noise that tweaks each headphone individually — tickling your third ear with playful sorcery on the album's "untitled" track. Elsewhere the rhythm section throbs like a pulse on quaaludes, artfully sluggish. Moments that surface closest to college radioÐfriendly are the least intriguing; it's more compelling to witness the overgrown-garden approach the Ills tool around with, where bewitching Eastern melodies tangle with the clatter of metallic avalanches, fragments of harmonicas and symbols topple into tracks, and the voice of frontman Tres (no last name) breezes through the elements as if he's mumbling in his sleep. During an era in which mainstream alt rock is sharpening its angular edges and riffing on '80s egoism and eyeliner, acts like the Psychic Ills reach toward dreamier sensibilities, their instrumentation fading into a warm blur. Live, you can expect that haze to continue, as the band moves beyond its recorded material to display its next phase of songwriting. "The show is pretty different from the CD at this point, because we only end up playing a little off the record now," admits guitarist Tom with a laugh. "We all love the record, but we perform better when we're playing stuff we're really passionate about. We're working on a lot of new stuff now ... and our inspiration has morphed. I don't want to say we're only playing improvised stuff, but it's more just sort of setting a mood and a feel and going with it." He adds that there is a method to the performance, but it revolves around "trying to keep [the songs together] as one long piece." In other words, prepare for a real sonic séance.

I've been a regular art collector of sorts for years, to which the walls of my apartment are a testament — they're covered with posters silk-screened, photocopied, and printed to advertise myriad rock shows. SFMOMA pays homage to the skills involved in interpreting a live event as a piece of visual art through the exhibition "The Art of Design: The Architecture and Design Collection." Twenty-six pieces from Rex Ray and Urban Inks announce the arrival of such musical dignitaries as the Pixies, Radiohead, Patti Smith, and David Bowie alongside local (living and bygone) faves the Coachwhips, Comets on Fire, Pansy Division, and the Lovemakers. I'm especially attracted to the bubble-lettered chaos in the work of Urban Ink — aka Reed Burgoyna and Sarah Mead — in which relics of a '60s aesthetic bleed into kaleidoscopic prints, or band names strike with hard edges, letters shaped to form lightning bolts. "The Art of Design" runs Thursday, May 4, through Sept. 5 at SFMOMA.

About The Author

Jennifer Maerz


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