The Turn-Ons w/Melody Unit, Blessed Light, Slender Means

Fri Jan 9, Crocodile, 9 pm, $9.

There are albums, and then there are announcements. The second full-length from Seattle's the Turn-Ons, East, is a tailor-made example of the latter. Matter of fact, the tailor-madeness that surrounds East is exactly why the record demands the full attention of anyone who hears it, and the details of its creation are impossible to ignore.

"We went through three machines recording this," explains singer/guitarist Travis DeVries, "and the third one died during mixing." Basically, the self-released (on the band's Childstar label) East is two years of the Turn-Ons' creative blood, sweat, and tears. "A year of work," continues DeVries, "and a year of sitting on it." Or, as bassist Sharon Oshima describes the sitting-on-it part: "A stubborn allegiance to analog is why we had to wait so long for it to come out." (An excellent EP, Love Ruined Us, came out on Bop Tart in July--the band's attempt to, as DeVries puts it, "get something out in a timely manner.") Enormous investments of time did nothing to deplete the band's respect for the defining sound lent to East by a complete belief in analog equipment, although that final exasperation forced the band to uses some of the dreaded digital simplicity recent technical advances afford. Says guitarist Erik Blood, who in addition to lending vocals, strings, and percussion to the album also served as producer, "We're not going to all of a sudden go all digital. Even if I don't [produce] the next record, I'm not going to let someone use digital. It's just stupid."

A departure of sorts for the Turn-Ons, East barely resembles its glam-informed, Marc Bolan-aping, self-titled predecessor. DeVries explains away the band's early obvious focus as if it were a self-indulgent adolescent phase that had to be lived through. "So much of the first album was just me being obsessed with T. Rex," he says with amused embarrassment, "and Bowie, and [the first record] was me getting that out of my system. East is me trying to play some of that in a more original-sounding way." (Blood hadn't yet joined the Turn-Ons when the debut was recorded a few years back.)

Those familiar with the band who've seen them play live no doubt recall the films projected alongside the musicians to be as much a part of the performance as the songs. The frantic-feeling pieces of spliced 8-mm film (featuring most memorably archival go-go dancer footage) invoked a bit of choreography during the live show for a band that believes in, well, performing for its audience. Recent shows have not featured any films, but they promise they will fly a friend from Slowcore Pictures, a collage artist living in Los Angeles, up to Seattle for the CD-release show at the Crocodile. "He makes each film specific to one song," tells Blood, "which started out after he made a video for one of our older songs, 'Success,' and we were just [makes a star-struck face] 'Oh my god! That's Beautiful!' I can't wait to see the new stuff. I'll be watching the films when I should be paying attention to playing." Unlike in the past when the films accompanied the entire Turn-Ons set, DeVries says the collages will play only at key moments now. "We like the variety," he says, "and we want attention on [the visual] and then breaks so that people will appreciate each thing [the songs and the films] as being separate."

Marvelously warm and wooly with its enveloping layers of swirling guitars, East resembles an old piano played with its damper pedal eternally held down. Blood explains the concept of tape saturation--recording everything at the loudest possible volume--and the audible compression it causes when things reach their boundaries and begin to turn back inward, which gives the tracks their distinctively swollen effect. Now, more than just glam rock, East evokes not only the same sense of foreshadow, but a sound reminiscent of what the Verve explored early on--that band's 1992 self-titled EP made the most of its formative tripped-out pop with compression. (The Verve's "She's a Superstar" perhaps best parallels East's sweeping texture.) Nothing, not even the live strings Blood added on to the end of "PS I Love You," sounds clean on East, as each instrument or vocal part is blurred and frayed to the point where it's almost impossible to separate where one shears off and the other picks up the thread. In less able hands such a deliberate fuzziness might serve simply to mask painful, unskilled cacophony. Thankfully that is not the case here.

Vocally DeVries conveys a certain wide-eyedness, much like that which characterizes Supergrass and makes that band so hard to not adore. It's not surprising to learn, then, that the Turn-Ons share a love for Supergrass. But it's the "wide-eyed" comparison that truly explains what the Turn-Ons have in common with those Brits, and really gets at the heart of why East is ultimately so compelling: All musicianship and songwriting aside, the new album is sweetly enthusiastic in its honesty. The troublesome "allegiance to analog," the heart-on-sleeve influences, the incorporation of flourishes that might daunt bands too wrapped up in their shambolic image to maybe gild a lily or two--all are traits that lend the record, and the band, its outward identity.

And that outward identity is what makes East such an announcement, just like the Verve EP did for its creators more than a decade ago. Bands could aspire to far less and still get reams of fawning attention, after all. Here's hoping those two years of frustrated dedication it took the Turn-Ons to get it right pay off in kind.

kathleen@thestranger.com