Indie-rock duel in the desert

TWO—COUNT ’EM, TWO—SIMULTANEOUS, sparring indie-rock fests in town this week? Featuring a great local band and a whole bunch of Portland electro-dance acts? Be still, my hipster heart.

Seriously, if you have any musical taste whatsoever, then you can barely stand the anticipation of catching Long Beach, Calif., psyche-rockers Crystal Antlers, who play at midnight March 23, at Bunkhouse Saloon (as part of Neon Reverb), and of seeing Portland, Ore., synth-pop act Chromatics, who play midnight March 24, at the Royal House (as part of the Pastel Project).

I recently chatted with Crystal Antlers, touring in support of last summer’s most-excellent second album, Two-Way Mirror. It’s a fun, dirty effort that deconstructs the old, sunny style of surf-pop (the Ventures, Beach Boys) your grandparents grew up on. Songs such as “Knee Deep” conjure a bubblegum miasma of stingray-infested, pier-pocked waters, in which bits of garage-rock trash and neo-psyche patches of bong resin float around. Interestingly, Mirror was recorded at a coastal studio in Mexico rather than Long Beach.

“The real estate is cheaper,” singer/bassist Jonny Bell says. “Plus, you can do whatever you want, and no one bothers you. Just look at William Burroughs. His book Queer was part of what inspired us to go down there.”

Still, Crystal Antlers had expenses. To nourish and inebriate themselves while recording, they moonlit as a beach bar band playing original material, American Top 40 and, yes, mariachi.

“We did that for a few years until the drinking caught up with us,” Bell says with a laugh. “It’s true that we were practically the house band at a bar called Gordo’s while we were living down there. The tourists seemed confused. It probably would’ve helped if we’d worn mariachi suits. We were paid in burritos.”

The other terrific group coming to Vegas is Chromatics. Maybe you recall their minimalist electro-instrumental “Tick of the Clock” from last year’s acclaimed film Drive? If not, let me say that Chromatics have mastered the art of lo-fi, vintage-keyboard pop. Their song “Kill for Love,” is a flat-out masterpiece of the subgenre, singer Ruth Radelet’s distant, disaffected voice sounding at once sexy and alarming. Love the lyrics: I drank the water and I felt all right/I took a pill almost every night/In my mind I was waiting for change/While the world just stayed the same.

Other cool bands to check out during this week’s competing fests? They all gather on March 24, for some reason. At Neon Reverb’s Alley show: DFA recording artists Yacht play at 9 p.m. At the Royal House’s Pastel Project: Local indie-rock fave Minor Suns play at 3 p.m.; Portland electronica act Starfucker (a.k.a. STRFKR)—have you heard/seen that totally awesome D&D-themed song/music video “Julius”?— performs at 9:30 p.m. For more info on Neon Reverb and the Pastel Project, go to NeonReverb.com and RoyalHouseLV.com, respectively.

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