The debut album from a trio of seasoned Bay Area musicians, Condor’s A Big One introduces new fodder for the growing West Coast-via-East Coast movement — or, more specifically, the San Francisco-via-New York City connection. In the tradition of such Golden to Empire State transplants as the Rapture and Erase Errata, Condor hails from the Mission District, but has funneled its frantic brand of goth-pop through the art-riddled boroughs of New York, thanks in part to Narnack Records. The result is a kitschy revival of early new wave fused with industrial influences and post-punk experimentation realized with an overwhelming synth presence.
The substitution of guitar for synth is the core of Condor’s no-wave sound, but it often sends the rhythm into regions only robots could dance to. The rotating vocalist role adds curious diversity, specifically begging the question, Why bother?, since both synth-keyboardist Kurt Keppeler and bassist Joshua Richardson sing in the same frenzied deadpan Euro-style. Whatever the reason, the vocals add an ear-catching caterwauling to the otherwise staccato monotony of the instrumentals, and it’s when the singing ends that the droning gloom of the music becomes painfully apparent. Tracks like “Song of Mystery” and “Suntan” feature long interludes where a keyboard, bass and drum kit try to numb the listener into jaded submission.
This cynical instrumentation works during Condor’s descent into the “Metrognome” where “You’re tired and bored/ You’re sitting in your room/ With your back against the wall.” The sneering continues as the gothic landscape created by the lyrics reaches a dismal crescendo:”Why even get up/ If you know it’s all the same/ Why should you get up/ If it’s all the same?” The overall feeling emitted by songs like “Metrognome,” “Delay,” and “Remote Control,” where there’s “No meaning/ just constant beating,” creates a bleak class-conscious cry for help, reminiscent of the plight of the Manchester factory worker circa Joy Division.
However, like most freaks from the Bay Area, Condor refuses to allow itself to be pegged down as just another Ian Curtis tribute. With the inclusion of such pop-kitschy tracks as “Gleaming the Cube,” the band draws on the background of its members to shatter an otherwise plagiarist pigeonholing. For the truth of the matter is that Condor is essentially nerd-rock chic, with each band member hailing as a veteran of the Mission District’s bizarre network that Keppeler calls “the infrastructure of the weird.” Brought together as housemates, Keppeler and drummer Wendy Farina drew upon former “Revenge of the Nerds” cast member Richardson to cement their status as something librarians will listen to at parties. Richardson, in fact, spent some time working as a librarian, and it was during these days he moonlighted as a Morrisey impersonator in the infamous Smiths cover band the Nyugens.
References to the Moz and Joy Division aside, Condor’s music owes an obvious debt to these UK pioneers, but the often grinding spazz-outs of noise give The Big One a distinctly State-side quality. The States have been leading the charge in new music lately, and Condor is further evidence that the West Coast stampede is underway. Be wary of any group that plays hometown shows at the Fillmore but has a mailing address in Manhattan. They may just be the next big one everyone is looking out for.