Bows, arroz, the shadow nose
When my friend, I think I’ll christen him with the nom-de-scribble, V-dogg, told me that he doesn’t care to listen to locally produced music, I replied, “It’s as if you just told me you’ve never explored the galaxies in your navel.” Or, as my old friend Ambrose Bierce used to put it when we drank monkey piss and tequila cocktails at a cantina outside Tecate, “Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum.”
I was thinking about my friends the other day, when another friend, Jed Brewer, stopped by one of my favorite hangouts, the Naked Lounge, and asked me if I’d heard a new CD by his band San Kazakgascar, which he’d dropped by SN&R. No, I told him. I hadn’t, because if you send something to my attention there, there’s a really good chance I’ll never see (or hear) it. So he graciously provided me with a fresh copy.
Now, rock exotica, specifically the more eastern-leaning forms, springs from a long tradition, perhaps beginning with the surf-guitar explorations of Dick Dale, who was born Richard Mansour in Beirut, and has worked his native Levantine culture’s melodic motifs into his music ever since. When the drug-enhanced late-1960s hit, bands like Quicksilver Messenger Service and the more obscure Kaleidoscope—whose guitarist, David Lindley, later made trips to places like Madagascar to record indigenous musicians—found inspiration for long guitar jams in Asian musical forms. And in the 1980s, bands like L.A.-based Savage Republic and, at times, Northern California’s Camper Van Beethoven and the esteemed and much-missed Davis band Thin White Rope mined similar territory.
The 10 songs on Greetings From Beautiful San Kazakgascar, their debut album, continue this fine drone-rock tradition. The band—Brewer on guitar, Greg Hain on bass, Paul Takushi on percussion and Mike Woo on clarinet—an instrument thats presence in modern popular music is sorely missed—churn up an amplified exotic din that at times comes off like the garage bongload version of Martin Denny’s 1950s appropriations of Polynesian musical forms. If San Kazakgascar’s “Mosquitoes and Gnats” isn’t a modern update of Denny’s “Tsetse Fly,” at least philosophically, I’ll eat my fez. Perhaps I should anyway, just to have some blog fodder.
The rest of the album varies from loping tracks like “Wink Eye, Stink Eye,” with one of those blunt-force guitar lines that drills right between your eyes into the gray meat, to annoyingly insistent tunes like “Tuk Tuk to Nowhere,” with its “nuh-nuh-nuh” chorus. The nuh-nuh-nuhs show up in other places, too, like “National Anthem of San Kazakgascar.” Guess it goes with the territory.
Yep, this is musical tourism from a bunch of guys in Davis. Some people might not find this their cup of yak-butter tea. Others, like me, will keep going back for refills (www.myspace.com/sankazakgascar).
One minor point: Perhaps the band’s moniker should be San Kazakhgascar rather than San Kazakgascar; the letter combination “kh” is a transliteration of the Cyrillic letter “x”; “k” is a different letter entirely. Which is a point that few people outside of various train-spotting circles would even notice. Oh, never mind.
As for local albums you should go out and buy right now, Christopher Fairman’s new 14-song set Born Broken should be at the top of your list. It’s very good. Trust me.