Like an Italian truffle, San Francisco band Tartufi is a gold nugget buried in a dense forest of indie-pop. Though the intricacies of Tartufi's dreamy, layered math-rock can be difficult to digest on first listen, a few spins and the group's contagious vocal harmonies and looping percussion will have even the most hard-hearted critic asking for "two ears dipped in Tartufi, with sprinkles." Already a standard ingredient in San Francisco indie lineups, the group is poised to grace the palates of music fans around the globe with their forthcoming release, Nests of Waves and Wire.
Tartufi formed in 2001 when Lynne Angel, Simone Grudzen and Pam Jost began playing in venues around San Francisco. After Jost left the band, drummer Brian Gorman picked up her drumsticks and the group soon released their first full-length album, So We Are Alive, followed shortly by 2005's Trouble EP. After a much-hyped showcase at SXSW in 2006, Grudzen decided to drop out of the group, and Tartufi's current two-member lineup was solidified.
"I think that we were having creative differences in terms of the direction we wanted to go with the band, and Brian and I were always a little bit more in tune with what we wanted to do, so it seemed to make sense at the time," says Angel.
Gorman and Angel holed themselves up in the studio to write 2006's Us Upon Buildings Upon Us. Album opener "If We Had Daggers, They Would Fly" builds from a Sea and Cake-esque twinkling piano to a full-out cacophony of wailing guitars and pounding drums. Each of the album's seven songs leads seamlessly into the next, and the record is best savored as a whole.
Since the release of Us Upon Buildings Upon Us, Gorman and Angel have been hard at work on their third full-length album, Nests of Waves and Wire, which will be released in January 2009. Though the album's lush sound is consistent with their previous release, they've had two years, rather than three months, to spend developing it.
"I think it's similar to what we did [with the last album] but I think we took it to the next level in terms of layering; it's richer," says Angel. "We spent a lot of time in the studio making sure we kind of filled out every track that we could."
Before recording this new album, Tartufi hit the road to test the new songs in front of live audiences. The duo made sure each song's structure and instrumentation was nailed down before they entered the studio to record with longtime producer and engineer Tim Green of The Fu**ing Champs.
"On this last record, Nests of Wave and Wire, we have one song that has over a hundred tracks on it," Gorman says. "We played belly slap, whistles, we had timpani ... we'd take a bunch of drums and just bang on different parts of them, salad bowls, oxygen tanks ... We brainstorm a lot as we're writing about what kind of sounds we want to create."
And though it might seem impossible for a two-piece to pull off this type of percussive layering live, Gorman and Angel practice 25 to 30 hours each week to ensure that their loop-filled live sets pack the same punch as their recorded material. The group has every pedal push, knob turn and xylophone thump down to a precisely timed science. And it seems to have paid off: The San Francisco Bay Guardian voted the band one of the city's best local live shows and crowned them 2007's best indie band, gushing: "Tartufi write songs like they're folding towels fresh from the dryer."
"Right off the bat, we're pretty unique, with the amount of sound that two people can create. And I think our audience is often struck by that," says Gorman. "They'll come in and think that there's 10 people on stage, or something, and it'll be just the two of us."
Somewhere between practicing, recording and performing, the members of Tartufi have found time to give back to the community that's nurtured them. Besides organizing Saturday Morning Rock Out lessons for kids ages 4 to 8, the band has formed Thread Productions, a music label, promotions company and resource for bands in the Bay area.
"This is our home base, so we really believe in working and building the community that we live in. That's why we're so active in the San Francisco scene," says Gorman.
After countless years amassing fans through a strict DIY diet, a record label has finally taken notice. In a number of days, the band is scheduled to announce, "with trumpets, waving flags and joyous screams from mountains on high," the label that will release Nests.
"It's not going to bring us to Britney Spears' level or anything, but it's going to bring us to the next place where we need to be. Which is exactly what we need right now," says Angel of signing to a label. "We're not looking for anybody to do anything for us, we really like having a lot of the control. We've gotten ourselves where we are, and I think we're comfortable doing most of that work ourselves."
With Le Fleur and Speed Boat, Sunday, Oct. 19, $5, Visual Arts Collective, 3638 Osage St., Garden City. For more information, visit visualartscollective.com.