On the surface, Locus Pocus is five boys in a rock band making music on a coast historically infamous for producing rock bands.
That’s a reasonably adequate narrative, just like the term ‘indie rock’ is a reasonably adequate term to use to describe the the quintet’s music. That being said, it achieves only the bare minimum to convey the actual reality of the music. From the beginning, Locus Pocus’ music was a postmodern pastiche to the core. It was the kind of music that could only have come from classically-trained musicians who nonetheless remained convinced of rock’s power as an outlet for bravado, entertainment, catharsis, and mania. Consider the member’s steady diet of pop, their winking fascination with so-called dad rock, the incubator of the hyperactive Bay Area music scene, and you’ll get something closer to reality.
Formed in late 2016 by guitarist Kyle Chapman and keyboardist Daniel Markowitz, Locus Pocus began as an outlet for the pair’s songwriting beyond the confines of the San Francisco State University music department. With the addition of frontman Nate Budroe, drummer Michael Kipnis, and bassist Daniel de Lorimier, Locus Pocus grew into a bona fide band and began participating in the local scene: house shows, backyard parties, opener slots at bar venues, and neighborhood block parties.
The music caught on – and quickly – thanks to their emergence as a prematurely tight live outfit. The rock-solid rhythm section of Kipnis and de Lorimier anchored Budroe’s unhinged theatricality, Chapman’s dynamic presence, and Markowitz’s dramatic flair. The band started ascending bills, sizeable crowds drawn by the sheer spectacle and entertainment factor. Onstage, Budroe developed a persona suspended between the jittery swagger of Cage The Elephant’s Matt Schultz and the explosive showmanship and full-throated howls of Roger Daltrey.
In May 2017, Locus Pocus released its first EP, a self-titled warning shot exhibiting a songwriting range extending from buzzing psych-rock bangers to spacious and melancholic pop numbers. The latter, delivered in the form of “My Girlfriend Won’t Dance With Me,” landed on Spotify’s Fresh Finds playlist the following June and wracked up 100,000-plus streams in mere weeks – no small feat for a band virtually unknown outside of the Bay Area.
Granted, that a band known for its penchant for grandeur found its first success in the form of a slower and more contemplative cut is proof the rock gods work in mysterious ways. But it also demonstrated their ability to deftly balance anxiety in tandem with bravado, a combination they committed to on their full-length self-titled debut released in June 2018.
On the anxious side: the complicated Big Star-esque catharsis of “Something in My Hand” and the bleeding-heart surf ballad “Brains,” in which Budroe drags himself through the trenches of a meaningless universe over mournful synth. Budroe’s preoccupation with social ills and the fundamental futility of the American experiment is laid bare on “Big White Car,” a frenzied punk panic over capitalism and white supremacy.
On the side of bravado: the over-caffeinated “Joining A Cult” and the sultry, self-aware “Night Trouble” that floats a guitar riff suited to a velvet night in a Havana lounge above a beat that tip-toes across Kipnis’ high hat.
On neither side: the unapologetic Doors homage of “Cool Color Happiness,” Budroe’s most surrealistic lines drifting aimlessly against the back drop of scorched-earth guitar and big sky keys. (The breakdown, however, owes more to Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer than Robby Krieger.) Also on this list: “1000 Little Cuts,” notable for its New Order-inspired bassline and searing descents into reverb-slathered madness.
When these songs (and moods, truthfully) rub shoulders on the record, the varied facets of Locus Pocus’ sonic personality create a complex character, faithful to the rock canon but driven by an utterly contemporary impulse to make a seamless collage thereof.
In essence, it’s not that you’ve never heard these sounds before. The brilliance of Locus Pocus is that you have heard all of these sounds before – just never like this.