Every year, we tell you we're big fans of Freakout Fest, the long-running psych rock fest in Ballard put on by Freakout Records. So it shouldn't surprise you that we're equally stoked for this weekend's Freakout Weekender, presented by Freakout and The Crocodile. This fest seizes four stages across The Crocodile and Belltown Yacht Club this Friday and Saturday, featuring over 40 artists. That's a lot to parse through, so we're here to help. Let's get to it.
Friday, 7:40 - 8:20 pm, Here-After
It's doubtful you'll find a more anomalous act on the Freakout Weekender's bill than Mexico City-based cellist/vocalist Mabe Fratti. The Guatemalan-born artist's music is the polar opposite of whatever imagery the word “freakout” inspires. Somber and swathed in chamber-orchestral strings, Fratti's works sound as if they're rigorously composed but are actually improvised, even as they evoke the artful songcraft of Björk and Arthur Russell. Fratti sings in Spanish like a sullen angel, her bittersweet tones frosting over the cello and synthesizer's morose timbres. You can't really party, per se, to this music, but it does offer a cerebral massage that might be welcome amid all the debauchery and raucous sounds that will ensue during this two-day/two-night extravaganza. A piece such as “Renacuajos” mesmerizes with gently wavering cello drones and feathery, contrapuntal chants; it epitomizes Fratti's intimate sound world in which introspection trumps inebriation. “En Medio” from 2021's Será que ahora podremos entendernos (translation: Will We Be Able to Understand Each Other Now), Fratti's most realized album, is a slow-motion dream-pop wonder aching to score a scene in a Sofia Coppola film. “I try to play the whole of the instrument, I like to find out what it can do,” Fratti told The Wire magazine last year, and that inquisitiveness and unconventionality have yielded bewitching results. DAVE SEGAL
Friday, 8 - 8:30 pm, Belltown Yacht Club
On a miserably rainy Sunday in November in the waning hours of Freakout Fest 2021, I dragged my carcass to Tractor Tavern for one last set to catch Freakout Records’ own Smokey Brights. I was prepared to make a French Exit after the first song just to say I went, but husband-and-wife singer-songwriters Kim West and Ryan Devlin lulled me in with their vintage rock stylings—all falling chord progressions, propulsive drums, and restrained synths. The hometown band had dropped the single “Honey Eye” weeks earlier with its portentous allusion to the climate crisis: “I’m scared that I can’t take it / Ten years is what they’re saying.” Self-described as “a sincere and desperate love letter from one worried lover to the other,” the emotional tension on stage as they sang was palpable. GREGORY SCRUGGS
There has been a Sharon Jones-sized hole in my heart since the Dap-Kings lead singer passed away in 2016. Fortunately, the Virginia-born singer-songwriter Nicole Monique Wray, better known as Lady Wray, is here to fill it. A bit more soulful and less funky than Jones, the church-raised voice of Lady Wray channels Aretha Franklin at her “Amazing Grace” best with just a hint of rasp to enrich the vocal texture. Delicate flute and choice piano chords underpin “Piece of Me,” the title track of her sophomore release out this year on Big Crown Records. But I’m partial to “Guilty,” which trundles along with infectious doo-wop backing vocals in the middle of her 2016 debut Queen Alone. GREGORY SCRUGGS
Friday, 10:20 - 11:10 pm, Crocodile Showroom
In contrast to many of their hip-hop peers, NYC's Armand Hammer (aka billy woods and ELUCID) rap with a grittiness, precision, and urgency that convince you that much is at stake every time they step to the mic. Fans of '90s underground-rap powerhouses such as Def Jux and Rawkus and of heavy, angel-dusted unit New Kingdom will get shivers of nostalgia while listening to Armand Hammer albums such as 2013's Race Music, 2020's Shrines, and 2021's Haram, the latter slightly more accessible yet still disorienting, thanks to the Alchemist's production. AH's best backing tracks privilege the funk while letting in elements of melancholy (doleful flute, eerie strings, unnerving drones, pensive electric piano chords), engendering contemplative moods and agitational stances with equal measure. These MCs manifest what feels like centuries of righteous racial grievance in their cadences and verbals, and high-IQ catharsis ensues. Lest you think this is a dour listening experience, Armand Hammer's tracks resurrect and enliven the concept of KRS-One's “edutainment.” Compelling sonics swirl amid riveting verses that abound with interesting metaphors and allusions, leaving you feeling nutrient-rich afterward. This isn't really party music, unless your idea of revelry is a rally to discuss reparations. If there's a better hip-hop group named after a deceased billionaire businessman, I've yet to hear it. DAVE SEGAL
ISLA DE CARAS
Saturday, 6:20 - 6:50 pm, Belltown Yacht Club
This indie-pop band is a pleasant surprise from Argentina, which in recent years has gained more notoriety for psychedelic cumbia and electronic folklore than gentle strumming and gauzy vocals. Like a cousin of Helado Negro or Petite Amie, this four-piece drifts breezily on “Despacio” from 2018 debut Chango, released by venerable Japanese label P-Vine Records. Spaceship bleeps and jazzy outré flute complement “Partenaire” on sophomore release Una Caricia. Their Freakout Weekender appearance occurs during the band’s first U.S. tour, four years after they first commanded the big stage at Lollapalooza Argentina. After warming up at SxSW and Treefort, Isla de Caras should be more than ready for their Seattle debut. GREGORY SCRUGGS
Saturday, 10:50 - 11:40 pm, Madame Lou’s
Not many modern-day Italian rock groups gather the momentum and master the variables necessary to tour North America, so when one does, it usually indicates a high level of interestingness. Such is the case with the psych-rock group New Candys, who have been creating compelling, Anglo-American-friendly rock for 12 years. Singing in English and led by guitarist/sitarist/vocalist Fernando Nuti, the four-piece unit did an in-studio performance at KEXP in 2018 in which they radiated steely cool in black leather and black denim jackets, coming off like a better-looking early-'90s Jesus And Mary Chain. New Candys were in Seattle that year for Seagaze Fest, but they are not your archetypal shoegaze band. They're actually more of a psychedelic band whose music likely won't transport you to another dimension or induce hallucinations. Rather, their tight, melodic songs fire your neurons with familiar fusillades of guitar snarls (shout out to lead axe-meister Andrea Volpato), vocal sneers, and propulsive drumming from Dario Lucchesi, serving as well-made distractions from your daily worries. You've heard this sort of thing before, but probably not from Italians with bone structure this excellent. A friend of mine with good taste who attends music shows on a nearly nightly basis recently saw New Candys and raved about them, so there's more validation for you. DAVE SEGAL
Find out more about the whole Weekender schedule here. See you out there!