The Young Ones
Eight Bands to Watch in 2008
Last year, The Stranger highlighted a handful of up-and-coming bands, acts to watch in the coming year, and dubbed them the Young Ones. Since then, all these groups have achieved international fame and unbridled financial success—Bow + Arrow even bought a yacht. Seriously, though, most of them had pretty stellar 2007s, and all of them were well worth the extra notice. So naturally, we're doing it again this year, and we're adding a showcase, featuring this year's Young Ones as well as headlining performances from two of last year's selections, Dyme Def and Arthur & Yu. The show takes place Thursday, March 6, at Neumo's and Sole Repair and is a benefit for Real Change. Not all of this year's bands are, strictly speaking, young—some have been playing around for years—but they're all poised for breakout runs in 2008.
"Keep Her on the Line"
Geographically, Green Lake is nowhere near Laurel Canyon or Big Pink. But the Moondoggies reside much closer to the Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and the Band than their current address suggests. Not just in their sound—a vibrant strain of cosmic country rock with abundant vocal harmonies, embellished by touches of blues, gospel, and folk—but how they generate it, too.
"We don't really have a complicated setup, and tend to keep things very simple and group oriented," says frontman Kevin Murphy. And thus it has always been. "We used to sit around in a house in Everett and listen to records. A lot of jamming out to 'Tonight's the Night.' Then we'd start harmonizing, and just playing a few acoustic instruments." Eventually, originals—many composed by Murphy during a stint in Alaska—replaced Neil Young covers.
"Deep down, we have a very traditional, less-is-more outlook... but that can go in a lot of directions," Murphy observes. Rightly so. On their forthcoming Hardly Art debut, Long Time Comin', lively hip shakers ("Ol' Black Bird") coexist peacefully with sepia-toned, Southern rock–flavored grooves, and joyous, communal vocalizing ("Ain't No Lord"). But they all gush forth from a similar spring. "It comes from a time of less-preconceived notions about music, the bare-bones, front-porch stuff." KURT B. REIGHLEY
"Little Toys on a Shelf"
As a band, the Pharmacy are hardly young—the Vashon Island–to-Seattle transplants have been making music together for nearly a decade. They released their full-length debut, B.F.F., in 2005 and they've played hundreds of shows since, touring with the likes of Kimya Dawson, Best Friends Forever, and Matt & Kim.
During their adventures, they've been arrested, stranded, and sliced open by sharp river rocks. More debilitating to their career, though, has been the band's regularly rotating cast of characters. After the release of B.F.F., original keyboardist Joey Seward left the band. Then the duo turned into a quartet that turned back into a trio—drummer Brendhan Bowers, guitarist and singer Scott Yoder, and keyboardist Stefan Rubicz.
"This is the really comfortable situation," says Yoder about the new, permanent lineup. "We've always been pretty close friends for so long, so the energy really works."
Rubicz also fits in with the band's running joke of inevitable bad luck—shortly after joining the band last year, he broke both wrists and still had to play keyboards. More recently, he broke his pinky when the band toured to L.A. a couple weeks ago.
Over the years, the Pharmacy have morphed from a discordant, lo-fi DIY punk into power-pop gold. Last week the band finally released their second full-length, Choose Your Own Adventure, on local label Don't Stop Believin'. It's their best effort yet—blissful and bright, yet still harnessing the angst that made B.F.F. so fun to scream along to.
The Pharmacy won't be performing at the showcase this week, sadly—they'll be just starting months' worth of touring (including a few weeks with Japanther)—but they'll be back in Seattle in April. Hopefully, no one will be wearing a cast. MEGAN SELING
"Ready for We"
Local duo the Physics (pictured here with collaborator Monk Wordsmith) are at their best when making smart and futuristic hiphop. To find the origins of smart hiphop one has to go back to De La Soul. That old-skool trio fathered a hiphop defined by self-referentiality, self-mockery, and playfulness. When we enter the tunes produced by the combined intelligence of MC Thig Natural and DJ/producer Jus D'Amato—the Physics—we think of De La Soul, Tha Alkaholiks, and the Pharcyde. But this is not entirely accurate. Thig and Jus are not that related to the Pharcyde or De La. All are smart, but something else happens in the music of the Physics.
The Physics' debut album, Future Talk, which came out in the middle of 2007, breaks into two parts. The first half of the album is music that in rock is called "trad"—these tracks are not terrible in the least; they simply show us that the Physics know the tradition of hiphop. The first half of the album is full of the past—the second, the future. And it is in the future tracks that the Physics are both at their smartest and most distinct from other smart hiphop.
Take "They Call Me" as an example. Before the opening of this track there is "Movie Phone (Interlude)." Here, Thig calls up a service that delivers movies through the cell-phone network (this technology is in the near future). After listening to the blaxploitation movies the service has to offer (Gone with the Benz, Barbeque 4, Broke Black Mountain), Thig selects Get Your Serve On, the film is downloaded, and "They Call Me" is activated: We enter the world of the slickest, sweetest, bad-assest ghetto prince in Seattle. Where we are and what we see has nothing to do with reality—this is pure cinema, pure play, pure fantasy. The image (the ride, the dip, the digital bling-bling) is something that Snoop Dogg would take very seriously—this is his ideal. What makes "They Call Me" so smart is that the Physics are not simply mocking the life and mode of the ghetto prince, they are doing better than Dogg and others who, track after track, attempt to capture the spirit of hood cool and smoothness. This is another kind of mockery, another kind of laughter. CHARLES MUDEDE
Don't let the cutesy lyrics and fey appearance fool you, PWRFL Power's Kazutaka Nomura can fucking shred. Before starting his singer/ songwriter solo project, Nomura performed as part of NA, an avant/noise ensemble that was as experimental and outré as his new incarnation is poppy and precious. The through line of both bands is Nomura's tremendous but never showy guitar prowess, which gives even his most cartoonish pop songs deceptive depth.
Or, you know, fuck it. Because PWRFL Power's songs are cute—Nomura sings, in distinctly accented English, about crushing on girls, about teaching you how to use chopsticks, about being yourself and releasing your, you know, powerful power. But though PWRFL Power's songs are silly and self-conscious, they're also serious: Nomura's songwriting is honest and revealing, when he frets about being labeled a cokehead if he does too much coke or about liking a girl even though she's plain-looking, he's revealing faults and taking chances, and these moments balance out the occasional goof about fruits and vegetables.
On March 3, PWRFL Power released his self-titled full-length debut on Portland's Slender Means Society (full disclosure: former Stranger writer Zac Pennington runs Slender Means), and Nomura is heavily touring the U.S. in support of the release, winning new fans one awkward acoustic song at a time and journaling about the whole experience on Line Out. Oh, and he was a cartoon in an Esurance commercial, which means he can introduce you to that pink-haired girl who you have an unrealistic crush on. ERIC GRANDY
"Eyes Spliced Open"
Sleepy Eyes of Death's impeccably crafted cinematic electro-rock sculptures are notable on their own, but what really sets the band apart from their peers is their remarkable live shows. The band deliver their dramatic instrumentals through a thick cloud of fog, eerily lit with flashing blue, red, and yellow spotlights. With a slew of amps, Moogs, keyboards, and synths, their performances are so draining on club's electrical systems that they've been known to blow a fuse or two. Or, as they did at a Vera Project show last year, set off the fire alarm.
"Thirty seconds into our set, the alarms go off and everyone has to evacuate," remembers Sleepy Eyes' guitarist J. Andrew. "They were really nice about it, though. They let us play a couple more songs."
Their best sets, though, are seamless, with songs flowing into one another through layers of ambient noise.
For 2008, the band are working on a sophomore album.
"It's gonna be really rad," says Andrew. "We're honing in on our sound, making it more original and less about drawing from influences. The new stuff is a little darker and more cohesive—it's feeling more like an album."
There's no date set yet, or label (hint, hint), but they're shooting for a fall release. As for their performance at the Young Ones showcase, Andrew says that the band have added some new tricks to their arsenal to ensure a stellar performance. Prompted for more info, he coyly replies, "It's going to be a surprise." What can be said is that you might want to bring a pair of sunglasses, as one possible addition to their lighting rig is something usually reserved for arenas. MEGAN SELING
"None of us really think that grunge is an insulting word, nor do we consider ourselves players of grunge music," write Talbot Tagora in a MySpace message, after being asked about the "grunge" tag on their profile. "MySpace didn't have our preferred genre description listed, which is 'NOIVE.'"
"We had originally thought of choosing the genre description 'other' instead, but we realized that we don't play 'other,' we play 'NOIVE.'"
If Talbot Tagora can make up their own sound, free from heavy nods to obvious influences, I suppose it's only fair they can make up a word to go with it.
The band are the youngest in this year's showcase—Chris Ando is 21, Mark Greshowak is 20, and Ani Valley is 18—and before they became TT, they were a duo called Summer Camp. But Ando and Greshowak wanted to fill out their sound, so they asked Valley to sit in on a practice and renamed the threesome Talbot Tagora.
Talbot Tagora's songs are organically derived exercises in discordant noise. Sometimes they rely on repetitive, jarring guitars ("Guitar Strap"), sometimes they wow with bombastic layers and distorted vocals (their killer cover of Elastica's "Connection"). The best songs are just really spooky and weird—"Lady Meeting" makes you feel like you're floating in a cartoon sky.
The songs sound like the result of fluid improv sessions, but the band say they're actually thoughtfully constructed. "We aren't really into jamming, but if we do jam, it isn't for long because somebody in the band will get really bored and pretend to be thirsty. We usually layer from an idea that someone comes to practice with."
As for what's in store for 2008, the band will hit the road for a short West Coast tour later this month, and they'll also keep busy recording songs that will appear on a variety of releases, including a split 7-inch with friends Shearing Pinx, a split cassette tape with a band from New York called Handjobs, and "probably a CD-R or two."
They're also working on a new fashion trend. "We had to stop wearing flannel because most of the bands that are related with 'Futura Noive' (or 'Noive') can't really relate to the fashion of a lumberjack or grandparent. So instead we wear brightly colored blouses and raincoats (you know how the Seattle weather is)." MEGAN SELING
Throw Me the Statue began as the one-man, bedroom pop recordings of one Scott Reitherman, a California native and Vassar grad who moved to Seattle to start a record label and make music. His label, the homey Baskerville Hill, has released recordings by Black Bear; Husbands, Love Your Wives; and others, including Throw Me the Statue's impressive debut, Moonbeams.
On Moonbeams, Reitherman's home-recorded songs loom deceptively large, with layers of synths and drum loops complementing live guitars, drums, melodicas, piano, ukulele, and other incidental instruments, all circling around Reitherman's casually cool singing and book-smart songwriting. The baroque lo-fi arrangements reveal a kinship with other DIY hermit geniuses such as the Microphones/Mount Eerie's Phil Elverum and Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes.
"Young Sensualists" affectionately details a friendship worn thin over a clipped, off-kilter rhythm loop, organ chords, and ukulele or possibly banjo picking. "Lolita," though it seems at first about as substantial as a lollipop, is deceptively clever. The upbeat boardwalk strut and flattened singing of "A Mutinous Dream" favorably recalls Very Emergency–era Promise Ring. "Your Girlfriend's Car" is charmingly shambolic, with Reitherman promising, affably though not entirely convincingly, that he's not interested in stealing anything from out of the titular vehicle. "About to Walk" is a persistent dream of a pop song. "This Is How We Kiss," "Groundswell," and "Take It or Leave It" are sunny indie-rock jams.
Reitherman's one-man show has expanded into a full band so as to better realize his songs live—the usual electric guitars, bass, and live drums accented by keyboards and glockenspiel (don't let anyone tell you that you can't rock out on a glockenspiel). The group recently signed to Secretly Canadian, who rereleased Moonbeams internationally, and they're touring extensively in 2008, appearing at SXSW and the Sasquatch! Music Festival. ERIC GRANDY
"Angels Sound Like Bottle Rockets"
In the land of techno, Truckasauras are a thrashing, mechanical rock 'n' roll monster. The group, consisting of brothers Adam and Tyler Swan and longtime friends Ryan Trudell and Dan Bordon, bring a beer-swilling, headbanging, low-tech energy to their live shows that makes them as well-suited to rocking Decibel Festival as they are to instigating a dance party at the Comet.
The band attracted some critical glow in 2007, including an effusive write-up on Pitchfork and an appearance in Vice magazine's "Dos and Don'ts" (as a "Do," naturally), but they've yet to transform the attention into a proper release. Instead, they've circulated a hand-printed, four-track demo, which includes remixes from DJ Collage and Jerry Abstract, while looking for label interest. But the group has easily an album's worth of eight-bit blipping, 808-booming tracks ready to go. Their songs combine body-moving beats with nostalgic, melancholic video-game melodies, highlighting their skills as both musicians and producers. But to really grasp the power of Truckasauras, you have to see them live. The group bring an impressive array of drum machines, sequencers, pedals, as well as a Game Boy sequencer, and play in front of a projection of old VHS footage of WWE wrestling, Airwolf, and monster-truck rallies, which Bordon mixes and edits live. They also bring an impressive ruckus, draping themselves in American flags, John Deere caps, and sleeveless shirts, while downing whiskey and beer like machines.
What's in store for the Truck in 2008? According to Adam Swan, they'll release their full-length in April or May via local collective Fourthcity; the release will be available as vinyl with artwork and sleeve design by Journal of Popular Noise's Byron Kalet and as a digital download.
"Our goal with the Truck album, is to sell a piece of art worthy of hanging onto, and to get the music to the people in the most effective way," says Adam Swan.
"After the album is released, we are trying to put together a tour of the states to help promote it. Tyler and Ryan both just turned 27 recently. So they need to get on the famous-and-dead-at-27 thing this year."
"Other than that, we will be depleting the whiskey and beer supplies of as many clubs as we can." ERIC GRANDY