Rambunctious Rock Royalty

Sub Pop turns 20, drinks plenty.

After weeks of being blessedly exempt from the phlegm-based plague that everyone around me seemed to be afflicted with this spring, my immune system finally got taken down last week, just in time to make me miss the Sub Pop 20th-birthday party at Hattie's Hat in Ballard on Wednesday. I was not happy about this.Resisting the urge to heal myself with a hot toddy, I sat at home sipping tom ka gai soup while my cell phone lit up with text queries into my whereabouts. By all accounts, the open bar–fueled bash was as lusty and well-lubricated as expected, even drawing committed Capitol Hill kids like Grand Archives drummer Curtis Hall and Neumo's co-owner/booker Jason Lajeunesse out of their mainstay 'hoods to mingle with the usual suspects, including Kurt Bloch, Mark Arm, and Kim Thayil.Luckily for me and anyone else who appreciates the local label's legacy, this won't be the last time Sub Pop celebrates two decades of hype, hits, and history: The label's Web site has hinted at a return of the famous Singles Club, and much bigger and more public festivities are in the works for July, but the details remain under wraps for now. I will speculate this much—reunion shows from Green River and the Fluid are safe bets (band members have publicly indicated as much), but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for a Soundgarden reunion. Either way, it's sure to be one of the summer's landmark live-music events.Another piece of the Sub Pop empire quietly celebrated their very first birthday last month: Hardly Art, the boutique imprint launched in the spring of 2007 and currently run by Sarah Moody and Nick Heliotis. They issued their first release, Arthur and Yu's well-received debut, last June, and recently signed local roots-rockers the Moondoggies (their debut hits later this year) and highly promising classic pop duo the Dutchess and the Duke, who definitely qualify for the ones-to-watch-in-'08 file.Founding members Kimberly Morrison and Jesse Lortz have been loosely collaborating on and off since 2002, when they briefly connected while playing in short-lived deconstructionist R&B outfit the Flying Dutchmen. Lortz filled the subsequent years nurturing his own record label, Boom Boom Party Records, and playing in punk trio the Fe Fi Fo Fums, while Morrison loaned her talents to the Intelligence, the Fallouts, and most recently the Unnatural Helpers.The pair reconnected again during a one-off recording session for the Sultanas, a Ronettes-inspired project that quickly dissolved, but which helped motivate them to focus their energy on building something more solid with the Dutchess and the Duke. By taking tonal cues from darker acid-tinged '60s pop and sweetening it with just the right amount of meticulously constructed harmonies, they are managing to pull off one of the trickier combinations in songwriting—sounding timeless and utterly modern at the same time. The 7-inch they released on Boom Boom in 2007 was so stunning that Hardly Art snapped them up almost immediately."Everyone was so taken by them that we signed 'em based on those two tracks alone," explains Moody. "I think Jesse was looking to take a break from his Boom Boom label, and was interested in trying out a different label route—which worked out well for us!" Morrison and Lortz have since fleshed out their initial sparse configuration with help from Coconut Coolouts' Ruben Mendez and Oscar Michel of Gris Gris. When She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke drops on July 8, a cornucopia of instrumentation will be in effect, including flute, tambourine, maracas, and an entire campfire's worth of handclaps and backing vocals. Catch them this Friday, April 11, in the low-key confines of the Dubliner in Fremont, along with labelmates the Moondoggies and their friends in the Lights.rocketqueen@seattleweekly.com

 
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