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Thursday, Sept. 9, 2004 07:21 am

sound patrol 9-9-04

The San Francisco treats

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Doug Hilsinger and Caroleen Beatty Brian Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (DBK Works)

Doug Hilsinger and Caroleen Beatty
Brian Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
(DBK Works)

Thirty years after Brian Eno released his second solo album, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), multi-instrumentalist Doug Hilsinger and vocalist Caroleen Beatty, both of the San Francisco indie-rock outfit Waycross, pay it a peculiar homage, performing all of the Maoist opera's 10 tracks in the original order, with more or less identical arrangements. If someone were compelled to cover an entire Eno work, the obvious choice would be Here Come the Warm Jets, the experimental-rock/ambient-noise pioneer's first solo outing -- it enjoyed relative commercial success in the '70s and remains a hipster hallmark to this day -- but Hilsinger and Beatty prove that the underrated Tiger is equally brilliant and ultimately just as accessible. Eschewing the synths and drum machines that gave the original release a glacial, distant feel, Hilsinger opted to re-create the music using organic instruments: drums, bass, guitar, pedal steel, sitar guitar, melodica, glockenspiel, and autoharp, augmented with various effects. Another obvious difference between the two versions is that Beatty, whose clear and sturdy alto recalls that of Mekons crooner Sally Timms, sings lead on all the songs, infusing Eno's aleatoric and often abstruse compositions with a brisk prettiness.

The duo had no plans to release their labor of love, but, by a serendipitous turn of events, they managed to get a CD-R to their idol, who not only gave it his seal of approval but thanked them for making "beautiful music" out of his "old experiments." Eno's endorsement should come as no surprise: Although the new Tiger is far from slavish, neither is it a radical deconstruction. Instead, Hilsinger and Beatty have zeroed in on the skittish beauty that was always lurking at the core of these songs, revealing majestic vistas and intriguing crannies that a more jaundiced eye might overlook. As Eno himself puts it in his liner notes, "How sweet! How touching! How sympathetically done! And actually ... they aren't bad songs after all."

Pidgeon
From Gutter with Love
(Absolutely Kosher)

On its debut, Pidgeon treads the same soft/loud, sweet/sour, spiky/shiny, boy/girl territory that will forever be associated with the Pixies and the legions of noise-popsters who cribbed from their template. But there's something in the execution that sets this San Francisco-based quintet apart from the pack and even, in some respects, from its mentors. If anything, Pidgeon manages to out-Pixie the Pixies, at once harder and softer, rawer and more sophisticated. Alternating larynx-punishing screams with candied caroling, vocalists Micah Foley and Val Iwamasa pit quirky contrapuntal harmonies against a brutal onslaught of three-guitar thrash and thrum. The arrangements careen from dissonant dirgefests to goofy baroque études, with intriguing detours into abrasive death-metal, messy ska, and arty indie rock. Like cotton candy laced with battery acid, From Gutter with Love is a study in contradictions, and it's a testament to Pidgeon's skill and ingenuity that the unlikely ingredients don't induce nausea.

"Down" shows Pidgeon at the group's flat-out poppiest, weaving Iwamasa's little-girl lilt with Foley's adenoidal snarl to glorious effect; "Powerful" evokes Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" before unleashing a menacing slurry of staccato power chords and math-rock guitar figures. The lovely, intricate "Strelnikov" starts out like some vaguely ominous gypsy air and then turns downright nightmarish, its "We will kill you" chorus screeched by a chorus of Lemmy wannabes. "Me to Play" builds slowly, with layers of soaring vocal harmonies over a wall of distorted guitars; shifts into a dreamy Beatlesesque false coda composed of delicate arpeggios; and then, just when you think a resolution is at hand, returns to the fuzzed-out squalor. Tough enough to be tender and smart enough to be stupid, Pidgeon is sure to delight all the headbangers out there who haven't yet succumbed to brain damage.

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