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SF Weekly Music Awards 2003

Americana DJ/Selector/Turntablist Electronic/Electro Hard Rock/

Metal Hip Hop/Rap Jazz Latin/

International Lifestyle Music New Genre/Beyond Pop Punk Rock/Indie Rock Soul/Funk/ R&B 

If music be the brandy of the damned, then we're drunk off our asses

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Page 8 of 11

From her swingin' home base out in the foggy depths of the Sunset District, Ramsey concocts sweetly twisted songs that channel her love of cabaret through a beautifully kinky mind. While the piano is her primary and most wonderful instrument, Ramsey also has a knack for bringing the best sounds out of just about anything, from an accordion to a Hello Kitty vibrator (the latter is featured prominently on her song "Mr. Buzzy Happiness" from her 2002 sophomore album, Kitty Muffins, released on her own Rugburn Records).

Ramsey performs campy vaudeville acts at her own shows as well as with the Cantankerous Lollies and the San Francisco Famous Burlesque Orchestra. With the greatest of ease, this instantly memorable doll transforms herself from a saucy Shirley Temple (with an infamously naughty cover of "On the Good Ship Lollipop") into the female version of a fanciful Liberace, from a sparkly fairy on roller skates to a ukulele-wielding flapper.

Shadow Circus Creature Theatre

For those who were more delighted than creeped out by the infamous puppets-gone-wild antics of Peter Jackson's 1989 movie Meet the Feebles -- which set the standard for offending-through-puppetry with its swirl of vomit and promiscuity -- Shadow Circus occupies a void. For founder Dave Haaz-Baroque is not one to be content with the boundaries outlined for him by the typically innocuous world of puppetry -- he's much more interested in breaking through them. After a rebellious infiltration of the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry and the Jim Henson Foundation for an 18-month course of study (where he was not known for going with the flow), Haaz-Baroque returned to San Francisco three years ago with a "most destructive and offensive musical puppetry troupe."

But Haaz-Baroque's characters have much more depth than Jackson's could have ever hoped to achieve. Sure, Shadow's principal members, such as Overlord Hatchett (a fuzzy red punk on guitar) and drummer Scary Lynn Hanson (a lovable but frightening young wannabe hybrid of Hanson and Marilyn Manson), espouse the merits of legalizing marijuana and living the hedonistic music lifestyle in a pursuit of becoming, as they say in one of their tunes, "The Best Ass in Rock N' Roll." But they're also displaying their interest in Celtic and Greek mythology, as well as the macabre tales of author H.P. Lovecraft, even as they lampoon such lascivious and dark local rock bands as the Gun & Doll Show and Galaxxy Chamber. Deep puppets, indeed.

Pop

The Aislers Set

If you're gonna form a band that plays your vision of the sometimes-bland sounds of British indie pop, you'd better make sure that band is top-notch. That's the lesson you'll take away from the Aislers Set, the brainchild of Amy Linton, former singer/guitarist of local noise-pop combo Henry's Dress. In 1997, Linton holed up in her garage with her guitar, drums, and other gear and wrote and recorded the intimate, airy, Belle & Sebastian evoking foundation of the Aislers Set's debut album, Terrible Things Happen. Combining that with the mod-ish, jangly fare she conjured out of her collaboration with Track Star guitarist Wyatt Cusick, Poundsign bassist Alicia Vanden Heuvel, and Scenic Vermont drummer Yoshi Nakamoto, Linton made the Aislers Set a critical and popular favorite here in the Bay Area.

Although the Set's subsequent albums -- 2000's The Last Match and this year's How I Learned to Write Backwards -- have seen it touching on psychedelia and '60s soul-pop respectively, Linton's solid songwriting and coy vocal style remain the band's signatures. That kind of locus has earned it local gigs with pop heavyweights such as Magnetic Fields, not to mention an opening slot on a current U.S. and Canadian tour with indie heroes Yo La Tengo. Scene pundits can argue all night as to whether the Aislers Set is the Bay Area's best band, but you'd be hard pressed to find such a conversation in which Linton and her supergroup were not at least mentioned.

Loquat

This electro-laced, sugar-sprinkled pop quintet takes its name from the citrus tree that guitarist Earl Otsuka got scolded for climbing in grade school and that lead singer Kylee Swenson discovered on nighttime jaunts in college. Not surprisingly, Loquat's sweet-and-tangy sound suggests a jaded twentysomething cradled in branches, balancing between childhood nostalgia and grown-up resolve. But, like Björk or Edie Brickell, the band manages to capture kidlike charm without sounding childish.

Back in 1996, Otsuka and Swenson turned their vegetative solace into a two-person trip-pop project, and since then they've added three adept analog musicians -- bassist Anthony Gordon, drummer Christopher Lautz, and keyboardist Ryan Manley -- to transform Loquat into an appetizing group affair. The band's always-catchy, often-bittersweet midtempo melodies are bolstered by sunny piano accents, cloudy synths, and Swenson's hypnotically delicate, aching vocals. So far, Loquat has released two too-brief collections, The Penny Drop EP and a 10-inch vinyl volume titled Fall, which captures that season's pleasant chill and crispness. Standout tracks like "Swingset Chain" -- packed with delightfully dizzying regret from a playground point of view -- and the slow, stark piano ballad "Internal Crash" hint at what's to come on the band's still-in-progress first album. Though that long-awaited release is at least a year away, it's not too far-reaching to suggest that the record will cement Loquat's status as the Bay Area's most promising pop band.

The Pleased

The Pleased (formerly the Please) is five West Coasters who pay homage to British rock by writing ultra-catchy, psychedelic mod-pop songs. At times channeling the soulful vocals of Bono, Ian Curtis, Billy Idol, and Neil Diamond (but truly in the best possible way), singer Noah Georgeson croons confidently amidst thick soundscapes that alternate among upbeat, droney, and reverb-drenched. Unlike the current crop of retro rip-off artists, the Pleased claims its own unique corner of the rock world, with melodies and arrangements that are diverse and original enough to distinguish the band from the pack. Georgeson (on guitar as well) and guitarist Rich Good splatter distorto-riffs and coy picking onto a dense, interlocking canvas of rhythm and atmospherics. Bassist Luckey Remington is not afraid to push the beat with eighth notes or remain minimalist when the songs calls for it, and keyboardist Joanna Newsom, who plays a mean harp and writes amazingly tender songs in her own solo project, here knows how to lie back, occasionally tinkling synth textures that waft in and out. Meanwhile, drummer Genaro Vergoglini drives the songs with either tender, lilting minimalism or grand-but-tasteful rock beats. Having already played with the likes of Clinic, the Walkmen, French Kicks, the Music, Von Bondies, Hot Hot Heat, and the Vines, the Pleased, which is set to drop its first full-length later this year, is on the right track for winning over fans on both sides of the Atlantic.

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