LOW-OCTANE: In any era of music there are those who are widely praised, and hailed as influential, only to be seemingly forgotten a few years later, their influence essentially outlasting their career.

The first name that springs to mind from the 1990s indie-rock era is Mark Robinson, founder of Teen Beat Records, and former frontman for Unrest and Air Miami, though there are dozens of others, one of which is a guy named Sooyoung Park.

Park was a member of power-noise combo Bitch Magnet--which also featured David Grubbs--in the late 1980s, before starting Seam, which excelled in moody guitar-driven landscapes that were at once textured and minimalist. By 1998 Pace is Glacial (Touch & Go), Seam was kaput, and the few, the rabid, the loyal were left to wonder what had become of Park.

Good news, then: five years later, Park has resurfaced in, of all unlikely places, a band that previously existed without him. Said band is San Francisco's ee (pronounced like the long vowel sound), whose current lineup (completely different from the one found on ee's 1999 debut, Ramadan [Asian Man Records], save singer/guitarist Tobin Mori), includes drummer Peter Van Nguyen and bassist Che Chou, in addition to Park's guitar and keyboard work.

While the band is set to release an EP, Tinyspot, this week, as well as a full-length in the fall (both also on Asian Man), with the new lineup, Ramadan reveals a band less steeped in guitar wallop than one might expect from a band associated with Park. Instead, the record could be described as "mellow," "laid-back" or any other adjective normally associated with bands that get called "slow-core." I'd throw in "low-octane, moody indie-rock with a soft spot for the likes of Pavement," while we're at it.

Catch ee, along with opener Red Switch, at 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 30, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. For more information, call 670-9202.

SLOW-CORE: And while we're on the topic of moody wankers, let's discuss Idaho, shall we? No, I ain't talkin' 'bout the russet-peddling state, silly; this is a music column, remember? I'm talkin' 'bout the band, which doesn't hail from Idaho at all, but California, and is truly one of the most under-appreciated bands of the last ten years.

As someone who writes about music, I'm often faced with a conundrum: when comparing a band to another band, which might be so obscure that the reference will be lost on most of one's readers, do you go ahead and use that reference, or try to find a more universal--but likely less accurate--one? I usually opt for the former, and I have likely compared countless bands to Idaho over the years.

The band is a true progenitor of the slow-core movement, which is to say it preceded other spearheads of the genre, like Low and Bedhead, by a couple years, and that it completely embodies every signpost of it--gorgeous, downcast melodies that take a couple listens to really grab you, and eerily isolated themes that are difficult not to empathize with, executed with an unmistakably authentic outpouring of emotion. All that, and a general air of beauty and sadness.

In other words, leave the Vicodin at home, but if you're a fan of the two bands I've already mentioned, or American Music Club or Red House Painters, or anyone else that plays by the slow 'n' pretty rules, by all means throw your cash down and prepare to be transfixed.

Idaho, along with Backpedal (formerly Crosscutsaw), appears at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, April 3, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Cover is $5. For more information, call 622-8848

SPARE SOME CHANGE?: Though it's been said a thousand times before, there's a thin line between genius and madness, and there's a thin line between clever and stupid. For local proof, turn to the extended Bloat family, which includes a trio of acts slated to play this week.

The collective includes the torturous charm of Bebe and Serge and amphetamine-fueled Delta blues one-man-band Bob Log III (who, incidentally, met with possibly the most rabid crowd response I witnessed of any act at this year's South By Southwest, following his showcase in Austin). Log's onetime bandmate in Doo Rag, one Thermos Malling, or whatever he's calling himself these days--Brad, let's say--and his wife Diana, have teamed up for a most unusual musical endeavor called Coin.

Here's the premise, quoted directly from the band's self-titled, self-released 1999 debut album (which was quickly followed by another whose name escapes me at the moment): "Every synthetic beep, chirp, buzz, drone you hear on this album was ripped directly from videogame soundtracks composed between 1983 to 1986. The original scores were painstakingly coded in Basic on a Commodore 64 home microcomputer. The raw data was converted by Coin into waveforms and assembled into new full-length tracks using cut-and-paste techniques associated with modern software. Sampled live drumming augments these arrangements by filling gaps from the editing process and offers a unique percussive setting unparalleled by any drum machine. The text-to-speech capabilities of Apple generated every vocal element on this record."

The bizarre result is pure pop songs, rendered in the key of Atari, with computer voices unsettlingly musing on topics like celebrating Christmas on a boat. Did I mention that Diana will be six months pregnant by the time this rare show rolls around?

The program will also feature the primitive funk rumblings of the Pork Torta, abetted by a psychedelic light show courtesy of Interplanetary P.O.T., and the first-ever appearance of the newest member of the Bloat family, the ingeniously named Gaylords.

Make it a Bloat night at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 29, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Cover is four bucks, and that number again is 622-8848.

OKIE-DOKEY: Back from his own SXSW showcase, Troy Olsen re-convenes his weekly Hillbilly Hayride this week with another tribute show devoted to another country legend. The culprit this time around is Merle Haggard, and while a list of acts paying tribute to the man wasn't available at press time, anyone who's attended any of the previous Hayride tributes knows they're in for a hell of a ride, regardless of who's scheduled to play.

Troy Olsen's Hillbilly Hayride leaves the station at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, April 3, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. For bonus details give 'em a call at 798-1298.

PROPERLY TRAINED METAL: What happens when a pack of death metal freaks go to music school for proper training? Find out, when Santa Cruz's Estradasphere pulls back into town this week, following its widely acclaimed performance opening for Secret Chiefs last year at Solar Culture. Fans of musically accomplished oddballs like Mr. Bungle will go apeshit over these guys, trust me.

Estradasphere, along with openers Molehill, perform at 9 p.m. on Sunday, March 31, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Six bucks and a valid ID will get you in the door. Questions? Call 622-8848.

GOLDEN-ERA: The only band from New York City I've ever heard that sounds remotely like the Marshall Tucker Band, Freeloader, hits our burg this week.

Don't let the MTB reference throw you off: the band's debut album, Custom/10 (2001, SVA Recordings) resonates with sound of golden-era, countrified Stones more than it does the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Sorta like latter-day Black Crowes, but more restrained. And better, though a few more rough edges wouldn't kill 'em.

Freeloader performs at 10 p.m. on Saturday, March 30, at O'Malley's, 247 N. Fourth Ave. Ring up the folks at the tavern at 623-8600 for details.

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