Sound Off!, the Experience Music Project's battle for bands too young to buy a beer, marks its 10th anniversary this year. Beginning February 12th, 12 bands plucked from a pool of over 100 applicants compete for the title that has jumpstarted the careers of bands such as The Lonely Forest and The Globes (as For Years Blue), as well as Brite Futures and members of Hey Marseilles. With that track record, it's safe to say you can expect big things from this year's finalists, if you can get over the fact that most of the members look about four years old. Here are five of the best.
Ambulance, Feb. 12
This post-punk trio features comically deep vocals from 19-year-old guitarist Sam Peterson and a rhythm section made up of two members of the Ballard High marching band. Members cite influences from Brian Wilson to (of course) Joy Division, but the band they all agree upon: The Strokes.
RIYL: Factory Records, tight button-downs, "ambiance"
Find them: http://ambulance.bandcamp.com/
Kids and Animals, Feb. 26
Alli Curtis Kids and Animals
Seattle avant-rockers Kids and Animals play so many shows, you could be forgiven for thinking they had been hitting the bar circuit for a decade or more. SW even crowned them the "poster-band" of the Seattle all-ages scene last April. Their complex, at times orchestral songwriting is easy on the ears, but their hard-working ethos alone could be enough to take them to the top.
RIYL: Broken Social Scene, social networking
Find them: http://kidsandanimals.bandcamp.com/
Kung Foo Grip, Feb. 19
In the interest of diversity, not ALL bands competing this year in Sound Off! fit under the tidy umbrella of "indie rock." Take, for instance, the retro hip hop of Kirkland's Kung Foo Grip. Emcees Greg Cypher and Mc Eff Is H have opened for Das Racist, and share that band's affinity for musical crate-digging and lyrical acrobatics.
RIYL: A Tribe Called Quest, Air Force Ones
Find them: http://kungfoogripbbj.bandcamp.com/
The Oh Wells, Feb. 26
The Oh Wells
The Oh Wells are two girls from Surrey, B.C. who make Regina Spektor-ish pop with lyrics about thoroughly modern topics such as staring at their cellphone screens and the pains of not being Megan Fox. Singers Sarah Jickling and Molly Griffin's cute-as-a-button voices blend mellifluously over bouncy piano riffs and enthusiastic ukulele strums.
RIYL:Magnetic Fields, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Find them: http://www.myspace.com/theohwellsband
Land of Pines, Feb. 26
Another bunch of Seattle indie-rockers whose introspective lyrics, surging power chords, and the vocal stylings of one Evan Easthope remind a savvy listener of nothing so much as the similarly-named Lonely Forest. But on the balance are the songs sung by the band's female half, Kessiah Gordon, whose Sia-like delivery would sound perfect on the soundtrack of Garden State.
RIYL: Death Cab For Cutie, feelings
Find them: http://soundcloud.com/landofpines
Bonus band: In a competition dominated by rock bands, Renton's Northern Departure make touchingly sincere bluegrass, which is awesome, if you like bluegrass.
Semi-final rounds start at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12, 19, and 26, at EMP's Level 3. The Finals are at 7:30 p.m. on March 5 in EMP's Sky Church. All shows are $10 for the general public, $7 for students, and $7 for EMP/SFM members.