Broken Spear’s ‘True’ Stretches Pop Into Pointillism

Redmond-native Seb Choe’s latest is a musical salad worth picking apart.

This Thanksgiving let’s try and give thanks for something. If you’re into local music, how about the city of Redmond? The Eastside suburb has quietly meted out cool sounds for 20 years now, with its epicenter the Redmond Fire House teen center. From that world, Broken Spear’s True (out Tues., Nov. 15) is the latest album worth exploring.

Broken Spear is the chosen alias of Seb Choe, a Fire House-forged artist who makes films and many different types of music, and who also spent lots of time in Seattle’s DIY all-ages spaces—before it closed, you could find him obsessively video-recording shows at Capitol Hill’s Cairo. True peaks with two great dance-pop singles. The other 14 tracks are jarring experiments chopping up skater metal, Top-40 radio, and hokey family-TV samples. It’s a trip. In a way, the whole project vaguely resembles a rap mixtape: postmodern music, a few “real” songs, and a bunch of informal musical tangents. But up is down and down is up. Instead of a chopped and screwed version, we get the inverse-helium edition—a sped-up, nightcore version of True for advanced listeners will be simultaneously released by Pedicure Records.

Some may know Choe’s rock-music history as a guitar player. His latest band, Cool Void, sounds a lot like Olympia’s Naomi Punk, whose producer, Dylan Wall, was Choe’s mentor. True is completely different. For one, it’s computer-driven, and its frame of reference feels individual. How else do you end up sampling Metallica, Avril Lavigne, and the show One Tree Hill?

Weirdness aside, the dance-pop singles straightforwardly rule. The eponymous “True” has an ’80s twee melancholy flavor, with Maria Ivanova, a friend Choe made in St. Petersburg while studying abroad, singing affectless and precise melodies in a high soprano. Work on the album actually began in Russia, and was finished on summer vacation in Redmond.

“Julius” continues the sad-sounding dance party, with low singing from Julius Metal, whom I assume to be Choe himself. The music has a beat that moves your feet. The singing has a depressed greaser feel. It’s a unique and well-executed concept, something Morrissey could break-dance to.

As for the 14 experiments, they are pretty and grating. Sounds are stretched to the point of abstraction or made into a kind of overwhelming pointillism. Some of us will headbang. Others will recoil. It depends on your tolerance for hyper-aggressive music salads. Chances are if you’ve ever felt any type of way—literally any type of way—about the music of Jojo, Ariana Grande, or Jordin Sparks, then Choe will have tapped into some part of your memory bank.

My feeling is you have to respect music like this, which comes from a real place and takes the form of an unstable compound, causing all kinds of potential reactions. This album didn’t come to make friends. Perhaps that’s one benefit of being from Redmond? Everyone thinks you’re uncool anyway. It’s a strong position to accept that—to do your art and decide you don’t necessarily need to be liked.