I lived in San Francisco from 2002 to 2008, and in that time (age 21 to 27) I played the drums in several fledging bands, from Power (with members of Burdenhand) and Sunfire Pleasure (now the New Up) to Exit Music (with members of Boyskout) and several pickup bands with David Gans of the Grateful Dead Hour and members of the Dead, Phil Lesh & Friends and Ratdog. But my most consistently rewarding musical experience in California was playing in a psychedelic indie dream-rock band called TLXN (“The Love X Nowhere” or “The Love Times Nowhere”) from Summer 2005 to Summer 2007.
TLXN, who just released their debut full-length LP High Score Blackout with their polished and talented new drummer Mie Araki, are a well-known entity in San Francisco due to live shows at prestigious venues like The Independent, Bottom of the Hill, Cafe Du Nord and Slim’s; flattering press in publications like the San Francisco Chronicle, SF Weekly, Mesh and the Onion; opening slots for established bands like Dredg, Ozric Tentacles and Calla; and keyboardist Michael Chulada’s polarizing TLXN stencils all over town.
TLXN released their debut self-titled EP in 2004 and, according to Dave Pehling of SF Weekly, “hit their stride” in 2006 with the release of a vinyl-only EP called Into the Fire, an ambitious all-analog foray we recorded at John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone Studios in December 2005. The four-song Into the Fire release included a 13-minute b-side which included a few verses and choruses of a song called “Spill the Ink” — which is sort of like Radiohead interpreting the Grateful Dead’s “Eyes of the World” — and then a 10-minute group improvisation including jazz trumpet. It’s something I still enjoy listening to on long walks along Ocean Beach in San Francisco, cross-country flights, and once even a busride from Gerona, Spain to Barcelona.
When I joined TLXN in 2005, they’d just finished recording their Odyssey EP, which featured stellar, engaging and subtly dark indie-pop tracks like “Life Divine” and “Coming Down” and the crazy rhythms of “Sympathy.” We had a fun, encouraging and exciting time performing on the heels of that release and then also debuting and promoting the songs from Into the Fire. Unfortunately, the tangible buzz and momentum we built up in 2005 and 2006 via grassroots efforts was all but demolished by taking on a manager who urged us to quit the grassroots thing and let him take the reins, at which time he literally disappeared. I split with the band the next year, but in truth TLXN’s music kept getting better despite what earnest, deep-voiced singer/guitarist Gabriel Leis calls experiencing “success knocking at the door only to find nothing but the wind outside,” or something.
Anyway, TLXN’s new LP is a lot more diverse and professional than their three self-released EPs, finally highlighting the brilliant keyboard and piano of Chulada, letting Leis indulge in creative and enticing ballads and embracing Japanese bassist Yuki Kasuya’s meandering, meaningful electric prowess. High Score Blackout includes gentle ballads, churning hard-rock freakouts, simple pseudo-jazz improvisations and even a heated spoken-word performance from San Francisco poet Jason Morris. The album disappoints at times by lacking focus, but it’s definitely an impressive and enjoyable accomplishment.
Despite, or maybe because of, my respect for and continued interest in The Love X Nowhere, it saddens me to see supposed-hipsters in San Francisco ripping the band. One blogger recently even said that his only wish for TLXN was for someone to pour bong-water in their equipment so they’d be electrocuted to death. Constructive criticism and differences in taste are one thing, but hurtful comments about strangers — especially behind the vail of a childish blog — just seem wrong.
So it was a little painful to see Leis, a cherished and admired friend of mine, talk about “frustration and defiance” in the face of such rejection. Although they’ve sold out venues like Cafe Du Nord and put out records all the San Francisco newspapers hailed, TLXN has never been an “in” band in the Bay Area; those spots are continually saved for brilliant out-there acts like Deerhoof who transcend the need for local attention and shallow, pandering “cool” bands like Birdmonster and Film School, the kind of accessible groups that get ass-kissings from Live105 or Bagel Radio for a few months and then fade into the scrap heap of derivative blah. Sincerely, many of the best Bay Area bands I’ve heard have had to leave Northern California to get noticed.
Regardless, I wouldn’t claim that TLXN is one of the best bands in Northern California — at the moment I’m not immersed in that scene enough to make such claims. But if you’re into bands like Slowdive, Radiohead, Pink Floyd and Grizzly Bear, I would definitely recommend checking out all four of their releases, which are available on iTunes and can be streamed at thelovexnowhere.com. Better yet, if you’re an established band that digs TLXN’s music and finds kinship in it, I suggest taking them on tour with you. Just be prepared to share your Fernet.