What to make of Black Fiction? In a single song, you can hear the band mix classic pop influences from Beach Boys to bubblegum with elements of psych, folk, hip-hop and experimental music in way that sounds simultaneously expert and effortless and completely captivating. But while The Beta Band or Beck blend some of these elements with a certain tongue-in-cheek goofiness, there’s a sincere, heartfelt sadness to much of Ghost Ride, the band’s excellent 2006 album. That combination of bitter and sweet has made “I Spread The Disease” one of the best songs I’ve heard all year and it’s but one of the gems on this album.
Black Fiction began as a studio project for Tim Cohen (singer-songwriter-guitarist) following the dissolution of his previous group Feller Quentin, although he soon recruited fellow Quentiner Evan Martin (singer-bassist) to join him. Recording entirely on an analog Tascam-388, these sessions resulted in Ghost Ride, an album that, equally parts insanely catchy and headscratchingly unclassifiable, drew the band significant acclaim upon its release last year on Howells Transmitter.
To perform live, Cohen recruited multi-instrumentalists Jon Bernson, Jason Chavez, and Anthony Marin to the band; on stage, the three tackle the drums, assorted percussion, synths, and samplers necessary to create the these songs live. The songs take on a new weight in this environment, and, based on the last few times I’ve seen the band live, it seems like Black Fiction the full band is heading toward a heavier rock sound than the album’s lo-fi pop might suggest.
From a lyrical perspective, though the increased musical intensity make sense. While a casual listener might ignore Cohen’s frequently bleak and painful lyrical output and just enjoy the pop and the dusty beats, the electric guitars and booming live drum/MPC attack do his meditations on death and despair a real sense of justice.
Thankfully, the evolving sound preserves the band’s layered approach and Cohen’s love of off-kilter pop. The new songs are catchy, spooky, intense, and melancholic, in periodically alternating and simultaneous batches. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, check out the band’s Daytrotter session, as well as the new music posted over at their MySpace page. It’s no slight to the band’s current recorded output to be excited about the new directions they’re headed in the future.
155 Fell Street @ Van Ness San Francisco, CA, Wednesday Oct 17th, 9:30PM, $8 with The Soft Lighties
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