It's February, the month for EMP's annual underage band tournament, Sound Off! Now in its fourth year, the event is probably familiar to you, but here's how it works for the new kids: Every Saturday night, three bands play at EMP. Judges score them on categories including creativity, musical ability, and audience response—and the band with the highest rating moves on to the finals. After three rounds of semi-finals, the advancing bands play again on February 25, where they face the judges one last time and the big winner is declared. Prizes include a performance at Bumbershoot, an on-air interview and performance on KEXP's local show Audioasis, 1,000 CDs from Discmakers, and two days' free studio time at Soundhouse Studio—so a lot is at stake.

The first installment kicks off this Saturday, February 4, at 8:00 p.m. with Ballroom Integrity and Grace, Capitol Basement, and the Histrionics.

A list of previous Sound Off! finalists includes some very familiar names—the Schoolyard Heroes, Mon Frere, the Hollowpoints, the Spit Licks, Idiot Pilot, the Gruff Mummies, and the Lonely H.

In 2004, the Lonely H didn't win the grand prize (Mon Frere walked away with the crown) but the young Port Angeles band have seen their share of success since their Sound Off! days. Most notably, they've recently finished writing and recording their debut full-length, Kick Upstairs, which was released last Tuesday on The Control Group (Schoolyard Heroes' and Alien Crime Syndicate's label).

Kick Upstairs is an upbeat collection of vintage pop, classic rock, and endearingly geeky inspiration à la Weezer. Vocalist Mark Fredson croons like an experienced (and hardly teenage) frontman, while a small symphony of instruments, including piano, cello, and harp, pulses behind him.

The boys' bright-eyed nature seeps into lyrics that steer clear of the stereotypical concerns of young broken hearts. Instead, the quintet (including two brothers) harmonizes on tracks like "Lullaby Lane," where Fredson invites you to escape the insanities, smile, and "take a ride on down to Lullaby Lane." The song is as poppy and gentle as the title suggests, complete with an a cappella "doobie-do" breakdown.

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Although, there is a little vacation into the den of self-pity on the '50s slow-dance ballad "Sweet Madeline," even then it hardly comes off as whiny. The ambitious release is made complete with a 30-minute DVD of the band's escapades.

Every new record deserves a CD release party, and the Lonely H do it right on February 3 at the Vera Project with fellow Sound Offers the Gruff Mummies as well as the Cops and the Audiobiography. The show starts at 8:00 p.m. and costs $7. MEGAN SELING