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The Three Sides of Lannon

Film School member showcases acoustic, electronic selves

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Nyles Lannon doesn't believe in limiting his musical choices. As a member of San Francisco's Film School, he belongs to a highly sought-after independent band. As n.Ln, his electronic music debut, Astronomy for Children, was the BBC's "Album of the Week" in January. As n.Lannon, his new record Chemical Friends is being hailed as lap-pop perfection, a worthy successor to and extension of the work of songwriters like Elliot Smith and Nick Drake.

Lannon only asks that you don't call any of them side projects.

"These are things I've been thinking about long before I was in Film School," Lannon said by cell phone while traveling between shows in Merced, CA, and Los Angeles. "The point I was at in my life was "that's it, I just got laid off, I've got a window of opportunity here, and I'm going to get these records out.'"

Extra-curricular activities or equal partners, it's rare for someone to score such high marks with three separate projects. But the red thread throughout Lannon's music is a superior sense of melody. And as it turns out, the mix of electronica and more traditional pop he practices separately in two of his incarnations has made his third one -- Chemical Friends, third only in order of CD release -- a critically acclaimed underground hit.

But, befitting anything made on a shoestring and bedroom computer software, the record has an experimental production aspect belying its polished final sound. Unable for "economic and logistical reasons" to record drums, Lannon says he only turned to his laptop to recreate the beats and wound up with a hybrid featuring the best of both worlds.

Chemical Friends is a haunting, beautiful record with many strengths, most notably a wide array of styles that rely on just a few key musical components: acoustic guitar, simulated beats and washes, and Lannon's languid, mournful vocals (the source of most Smith comparisons). The 11 songs are also expertly sequenced, sparse acoustic numbers foils for more lush, software-based tunes, and vice versa.

"Each time I'd do a batch of songs, I would tend to write one and then write another one that was reacting to that first one," Lannon says. "That's just the way I work, I tend to want to hear something different after I've been working on something. You want to refresh yourself and try something new.

"I don't want it to be all this sound or that sound, I wanted to jump around."

But the hopscotch nature is organic, never spasmodic. From the catchy guitar-and-glitch opener, "The Catch," to the acoustic strum and organ drone of the elegiac "Turn Time Around," the finger-picking pattern of "Hollow Heart" (lifted from Kansas' "Dust In the Wind," Lannon laughs) and the 808 pulse of "My Last Breath," Chemical Friends balances its components holistically.

There's also a deep well of minor-key melancholia pervading the record, making it a likely favorite for the forlorn. It explains why the record has, in addition to pretty melodies and cool instrumentation, a warm narcotized pull to it that acts like a balm for psychic wounds. But Lannon insists listeners not get carried away by the record's title.

"Put it this way, it's not a drug record," he says when asked about the origins of the name. "I guess it can be that if you want it to be that, but for me it wasn't only that. I was getting over a relationship and using this record as a way to focus and get through that period....and in that way it became my dependency, my helpful little chemical friend. On a brain level it was allowing me to do the things I needed to do to get through that time."

Having made it through there, as well as separate European tours this year with Film School and as nLn, Lannon finds himself on the road again, this time with drummer Warren Huegel and keyboardist Dan Lee (Scrabbel). The trio is adapting the record's computerized songs to the stage, and getting a kick from their transformation.

"It's funny because we're getting a lot of the kinks out now," Lannon says, five shows into the tour and Los Angeles getting closer throughout our conversation. "With each show we're learning how to make it sound better on stage. It's a nice hybrid now."

Hybrids -- sounds like something Lannon knows a little about.

"As I get into my early 30s, I'm also thinking about what makes the most sense financially," he says. "If I'm going to spend a lot of time making a record, I do need to sell some records."

n.Lannon plays The Room on October 20 with the Virginia Reel and Bitter, Bitter Weeks; tickets are $7 and the show starts at 10pm.

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