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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Exray's Jon Bernson: Any Musician Who Can Survive in S.F. is a Magician

Posted By on Thu, Feb 3, 2011 at 7:31 AM

Exray's reppin' SFO.
  • Exray's reppin' SFO.

Jon Bernson puts it pretty plainly (and enthusiastically) when discussing the emerging lo-fi scene in the Mission: "There's a real collaborative spirit!"

In case you haven't heard, a new crop of bands in the neighborhood is getting weird. One of them is Bernson's Exray's, a collaboration with Michael Falsetto-Mapp that blends harmonious elements from Continental synth-punk, decades-old musique concrete, and L.A.'s instrumental hip-hop, and mashes it all together using the glue of lo-fi pop melodicism. You can't help but link Exray's -- which celebrates its debut album release party this Friday at Cafe Du Nord -- to the same pie-in-the-sky garage-pop fronted by the Fresh & Onlys, Sonny & the Sunsets, Ty Segall, and others. But there's an inorganic quality to Exray's that sets the project apart from its peers.

That said, Bernson counts many colleagues amongst the lo-fi throng, a scene documented on last year's In A Cloud compilation (Secret Seven Records). He recently participated in about half a dozen musical collaborations, with co-collaborators including the Fresh & Onlys' Tim Cohen, as well as singer-songwriter Michael Zapruder. In particular, Bernson and Cohen have frequently played in each others' past groups, and also maintain a joint project called Window Twins.

When asked about San Franciscans' propensity to collaborate, he readily agreed. "I think musicians are pretty clued into community," Bernson says. "Most music is a group effort, and no band is an island.

"What may be a little different about San Francisco is that it's so expensive. Anyone who can survive and make music here for an extended period of time is a magician, as far as I'm concerned. Maybe being an endangered species makes you appreciate your own kind."

Despite the relative youth of the project, it's already made a cinematic splash. Through contacts established by mutual friends, Exray's ended up contributing an instrumental version of their track "Hesitation" to David Fincher's The Social Network.

"I didn't watch the Golden Globes, but it's exciting to have a song in a movie that's doing so well," Bernson says. "Not to mention sharing speakers with [Social Network score composers & Best Score Globe winners] Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross."

Exray's isn't really nominated for anything this awards season, but Bernson's project made thematic sense for the brooding Social Network: a series of flash-backs, the film transitions from ill-lit Cambridge footpaths to 24-hour California hangovers through the cold medium of present-day litigation scenes. There's a certain sterility to Exray's beats and the wide array of electronic and analog textures employed on last year's Ammunition Teeth EP and the band's self-titled debut full-length (released January 25) that fits the wintry feel of the film. Relevant to this city's music lovers, that gauzy sheen makes the group an intriguing complement to other lo-fi adherents performing in the city today -- and also a standout among them.

Bernson is happy about the diversity of the scene. "For some reason, [San Francisco's] musical floodgates are open," Bernson says. "Lots of different styles are being heard, and that jives with the Bay Area mindset. [And] Greg Gardner from Secret Seven put together a real treasure [with In A Cloud]."

Of course, being a Mission man, he confirmed an not-unexpected detail about Friday's show: "Farolito is the after-party."

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