Maybe it comes from having lived half my life in California, but there's something about listening to the Thrills sing about a batch of mixed memories in the Sunshine State that thaws all the frozen moments I've collected involving the place--as well as the sharp longing that comes from leaving even the most difficult of times there. The Dublin band began their fascination with the SoCal aesthetic when they moved to San Diego in their late teens/early 20s. They were looking for "great weather," says frontman Conor Deasy, "and we just wanted to live by the sea." The band lived behind an old punk record store on Mission Beach for a couple of months, traveling north to Big Sur, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco.

On their return to Dublin, the Thrills' deal with an indie label fell through. But instead of remaining stalled in that situation, they wrote an album, So Much for the City (out now on Virgin), that transported them back to California beach towns, as well as one stint in Vegas. City focuses on both the minute and grand details of their lives there: "Deckchairs and Cigarettes" uses the sounds of waves crashing and seagulls cawing to accent the call to "go to San Diego, that's where all the kids go," while "One Horse Town" laments, "I never should have settled down, hanging around in a one horse town, when everyone starts sleeping around."

"We could've easily left with a postcard idea of what California is about," says Deasy, "but because we lived there for a time I think we got a more of a rounded perspective, and that's what lyrics like 'Tell me where it all went wrong' [from "Santa Cruz (You're Not That Far)"] are about. You can have a good time in California, but there's also potential for falling off the track."

Without the lyrics on City, though, you would never know that the album is anything but an idealized splash through surf towns where everyone's brown-bagging it on the front porch and wetsuits are drying above the tub. Instrumentally, the band's bright pop arrangements sparkle with touches of the Byrds, Neil Young, and Beachwood Sparks, a slightly desert-dusted Southern California sound that swells with sweet harmonies, twangy guitar, and the distant, lilting melodies of a harmonica.

Deasy explains the contradiction between the music and the lyrics, saying, "It was a tough time for the band. But there's no way we could've sat down and written depressing songs, so the melodies and the arrangements and the music are quite uplifting and joyful. We used to call it escapist music--that's why we put all those towns in there."

You can daydream along with the Thrills at the Crocodile on Saturday, November 8, when their blissful pop arrives in town with openers Adam Green and the buzzed-about Sacramento act Low Flying Owls.

Graceland's assistant booker Frankie Chan made his own California escape recently, moving to L.A. last week. Of course he couldn't leave without throwing a big goodbye party that included music from David Dondero, the Lashes, the Catheters, and Himsa, in an eclectic range of musical sentiment that ranged from Dondero's eloquently naked admissions of relationships coming apart at the seams to Himsa frontman John Pettibone gleefully scaring away the weak of heart by shoveling coal-black metal on the darkened room.

The Fun House opened its doors in the old Zak's space last week, bringing together some of the old (bartenders, bookers, and crusty punks) and the new (framed posters of icons like Iggy Pop, a green room, a giant clown head, and bright red walls where tacky--but charming--images of mountains and mushrooms once stood). When I half-joked with Fun House owner Bobby Kuckelburg that I would miss the eyesore murals, he said all it'd take to re-create those scenes is a strung-out hippie on a big dose of acid.... And the Strokes settled into the Northwest on their recent trip here. After last month's Seattle show, the band headed to the 10-acre Bear Creek Studio for a couple of days to record a new single, "Post Modern Girls," with producer Gordon Raphael and engineer Ryan Hadlock. Bear Creek's Manny Hadlock gushed, "They were just these really nice boys from Manhattan whose feet probably hadn't touched grass [like this] in years."