Tues, January 10th
We can take it as given that the most interesting music being made at>"/>
Tues, January 10th
We can take it as given that the most interesting music being made at any given time or place isn't always the most popular. (In the same way that McDonalds serving billions and billions doesn't make theirs the best burgers, record sales or sold-out shows alone don't make, say, these guys the best musical acts.) So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the hive of much of Seattle's most promising musical creativity these days is the tiny storefront art and retail space Cairo, a decidedly small scale joint for whom a packed show constitutes maybe 50 people. (See also this month's review of Cairo Records' Coastal Sightings comp.) Last night, a very Cairo kind of bill took to the proper venue of Neumos for a Tuesday night showcase, and while it was only maybe twice the size of their typical crowd (with Neumos' curtain drawn to cut the showroom in half for the more intimate audience), it was a handy primer of Seattle bands to watch in 2012.
Between OC Notes, Erik Blood, Flexions, and Stephanie you can hear hip hop, punk, power pop, shoegaze, new wave, tropicalia, surf, dub, and more absorbed and digested into the bands' individual sounds. You can see two generations in dialogue with each other--relative elder Erik Blood producing Stephanie and covering an OC Notes song, or Flexions' roots going back to the very first incarnation of the Blood Brothers. And you can see a small but dedicated young crowd getting down and dancing on a cold, quiet Tuesday night--always nice.
I wish OC Notes had been performing a live set as well as DJing between bands, although maybe that's a lot to ask. As it was his DJ set had the air of someone not just showing off their cool record collection but also clashing those records in interesting ways, jumping from jazz breaks to LCD Soundsystem, doubling rhythm tracks in concussive layers. Erik Blood (in winter coat, scarf, and hat) and his six-piece band (guitars, drums, keyboards) played a short and sweet set of bright, soft-edged power pop--a sound this town doesn't have a ton of as far as I can tell.
Flexions and Stephanie both work with songs that balance tightly interlocked musicianship with loose rhythmic jamming--Flexions' offset by Devin Welch's unpredictable surf guitar shreds, Stephanie's by singer Wil Adams' echoey primal scream vocal bellows, both depending on quietly commanding rhythm sections for anchor. On a couple songs, with Devin playing gassy synth lines on his old Sequential Circuits keyboard, the band gave off a bit of a Giorgio Moroder (or, for the youths, Drive soundtrack) vibe--City Arts' Jonathan Zwickel heard Trans Am, a sensible intermediary point.
Of course, part of being "promising" is having room to improve, and as much as I dig Stephanie and Flexions' sounds, they both share a common potential for growth: the vocals. Welch is one of Seattle (or now Portland)'s most distinctive and incendiary guitar players, but when he steps to the mic, he comes off a little flat. In my mind, Flexions become the Battles of Seattle, upping their jigsaw multi-instrumentalism while recruiting another guest vocalist or two (their 2011 Cairo album Golden Fjord featured the singing of one Margaret Jones). Stephanie, meanwhile, have some compelling, propulsive songs--weird no wave punk you can dance to, marked by sharp guitar work and muscular yet precise drumming--but the singing just floats and hangs above it all rather than leading anywhere. (One song with bassist Ian Judd on vocals was immediately more accessible.) Or, put that another way: Stephanie and Flexions both have the problem of being bands whose singers are not nearly as charismatic and dynamic as are the bands as a whole. One way or another, that may be their challenge to overcome in 2012.