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Friday, January 11, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Night Watch / Tom Scanlon

Smashing debut makes you long to hear from Cober again and again

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Sheila Bommakanti — you don't know her, do you?

Then again, perhaps you've had an experience with this petite, unassuming, quietly intelligent Queen Anne resident. Perhaps you've hung up on her.

Maybe you told her: "Look, no offense and I'm sure you're just doing your job, but PLEASE DON'T EVER CALL ME AGAIN!"

Yes, she used to be a telemarketer. One of those people who, when you least expect it, rattles your quiet evening, invading your privacy like an invisible thief, a thug with a polite voice, turning your own phone against you ...

But don't hold that against Bommakanti. She's really quite nice — and, more to the point of this article, a terrific musician.

On "Crashpilot," the potent debut album from her band, Cober, Bommakanti plays guitars, mandolin and bass while singing up a storm. Oh, she also writes, and her lyrics strike chillingly deep:

"Your wishing is my sleepin'
a razor to my head ...
The knife with which you stab me
I now will eat with it."

— from the song "Winnebago"

"Crashpilot" is filled with dark images, lies, abandonment, manipulation, self-realization through deception ("I'd love to be like you/but I can't fake it that well"), brooding, pain ("End of the world sky/she says/we are the cancer").

Bommakanti, whose parents are from India, grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, where music was therapeutic. "Music for me really got me through a lot. I'd really like this band to be that for the listeners. Almost an empathetic voice."

Because the music is so alluring, one doesn't really realize how ominous this recording is, until perhaps the third or fourth listen. Or fifth. Or sixth. "Crashpilot" is one of those few recordings that creeps under your skin, and really stands up to repeated listenings. (As one reviewer put it: "For days, I ate to it, drove with it, and even fell asleep by it. 'Crashpilot' is just that good!") Musically, Cober is something of a throwback, to some of the great female rock bands of the previous decade: Babes in Toyland, L7, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Hole. Indeed, a cut or two from Cober's "Crashpilot" album sounds as if it could be previously unreleased Hole material, with Bommakanti howling like Courtney Love at her best (remember that?).

Though she was close to a one-woman band on the album, Bommakanti is now joined in Cober by bass player Lelani LaGuardia. The two met at work — yes, LaGuardia was a fellow telemarketer. (They sold, of all things, The Seattle Times.) Bommakanti and LaGuardia have moved on to jobs in customer service and were able to get away from work long enough to do some Cober touring in 2001, the highlight being a show at the legendary New York rock club CBGB.

Cober's next show is Thursday at Pioneer Square's Central Saloon ($5, 10 p.m.).

For more on Cober, including song samples: www.cober.org.

Note: If you happen to buy a copy of "Crashpilot" (available at Orpheum and Cellophane Square record stores), make sure you listen to the "hidden tracks" at the end, especially the instrumental that closes the album. Great stuff.

Other shows of note: Portland's Sunset Valley plays Ballard's Sunset Tavern tonight (9 p.m., $7); Adema — singer Mark Chavez is the brother of Korn's Jonathan Davis — thrashes at Graceland on Sunday (7 p.m., $8, all ages); smutty New York hip-hopper Princess Superstar — perhaps the female Kool Keith — drops naughty rhymes at the Crocodile on Tuesday (10 p.m., $10); local Goth stars Faith & Disease get ethereal at the Crocodile — on Thursday (9:30 p.m., $6).

Tom Scanlon: 206-464-3891 or tscanlon@seattletimes.com

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