The Bay Area has long been a breeding ground for odd musical beasts: psychedelia in the '60s, damaged art-punk and industrial in the '70s and '80s, and experimental noise and weirdo beats in the '90s. Lest you think this vile bloodline has faded like affordable housing, along comes Troll, a creature that's been lurking undetected in the San Francisco fog since 1998. The five-piece's debut full-length, Qué Son los Trolls y en Qué Nos Ayudan?, is a strange brew, not quite perfected but still bewitching.
A number of familiar ingredients swirl and bubble in the Troll sound -- especially the charred flower-power of Sonic Youth and space-rock jams of '70s Hawkwind -- but the band adds some new seasonings. The vocalists (three men and two women) trade off singing in Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Japanese, and English, without sounding like an ESL school. Add a tendency to jump from dreamy vamps ("Equilibrios") to bossa nova swing ("Texas Bossanova") to freaky acid rock ("El Vampiro") and you have a band that makes the experimental accessible.
Despite the psychedelic effects pedals and eclectic vibe, Troll leans toward a friendly feel. "California Poppy" is downright elegant, with a synth mimicking a sprightly flute, while the floating saxophone, bells, and guitar of "Sleeptrane" make perfect naptime rock. "Blue Skies" begins as an innocuous, pastoral love song, until the female singer starts ranting about "Blue, blue skies/In my bloody eyes." "Army" shifts gears as well, moving from a driving rock song to something mildly psychotic when a male vocalist unleashes passionate shrieks. "Dinah Soar" enters an even darker netherworld where looped squawks and cheesy keyboard strings weave a disturbing waltz.
The most consciousness-altering moment, however, is buried at the end. This untitled final track pits a woman's vaguely European folk song against harsh keyboard drones, scratchy record samples, and oscillating laser-gun blasts. Hopefully, this tune hints at similar genius freakouts to come, as Troll spends more quality time brewing odd goo in its vast cauldron.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.