The next couple of weeks offer a diverse lineup of shows. There are remarkable rockers who influenced the sound of groups like Blondie while they were in their prime. There will also be shape-shifting indie rockers who continue to mature and grow as musicians, along with a trio of former rockers who have become one of the country’s major electronic dance music draws. Meanwhile, all of this will be balanced by the appearance of a hip-hop crew from Seattle, a city with a music scene that moves to the beat of its own drummer. That’s a lot of lead-up. Let’s stop introducing and start talking.
Paul Collins (see interview here) is an artist whose name you might not recognize, but you know his work. Collins started his musical career playing in a band called The Nerves. Starting in 1974, The Nerves played with an energetic power pop sound that was popular in its time. In 1976, the band released “Hanging on the Telephone.” Anyone who listens to classic rock radio or has gone to a New Wave party might be thinking that’s a Blondie song. It’s as much a Blondie song as “The Tide is High” is, which is to say that it isn’t, because they covered both.
Following two full-length albums, the members went their separate way and Collins went on to form The Beat by the end of the decade. Collins ran into trouble because a band called The Beat already existed—American listeners know them better as The English Beat. Following a lawsuit by The (English) Beat in 1979, Collins renamed his band Paul Collins’ Beat. This Beat went on to become torchbearers for the power pop sound along with artists like Big Star, The Undertones, The Knack and The Jam. Following success throughout the 1980s, Paul Collins’ Beat disintegrated.
In 2006, with the help of some musicians in his new home, Spain, Paul Collins’ Beat reformed. While he had gotten older, Collins hadn’t forgotten how to write sharp, catchy hooks with panache. Since 2006, this reformed Beat has produced two excellent albums of freshly written power pop, reminding listeners of why he is a legend of the underground. He’ll be rocking the stage of The Mill on Feb. 10.
Two days later, Pacific Northwest rockers Menomena will be playing in the same room. Now only a two-piece following the acrimonious departure of co-founder Brent Knopf in 2010, Menomena is a band that is willing to push the limits of rock. Densely layered with various instruments and numerous loops, Menomena’s music displays an innate knowledge of the pop song as well as the full ability to deconstruct it. Their sound is very accessible, yet the touchstones of their music are difficult to pin down as their sound can morph from a straightforward pop song into a noisy post-rock interlude or an unexpected jazzy saxophone run.
Given that songwriting was always democratic in this band, the shift from trio to duo is unnoticeable on their 2012 album, Moms. Written about the relationships that Danny Seim and Justin Harris have with their mothers, this album keeps all the characteristics that many have come to love in the band while bringing more emotional, heartfelt lyrics into the mix. While their relationships with their mothers—Harris’ mother died in 1994 and Seim was raised by a single mother—seem difficult, the album isn’t as dark as its subject matter would imply. It certainly isn’t the cheeriest album, but it also isn’t a Dashboard Confessional record. It’s an album that will please longtime fans and bring a couple more into the fold.
In terms of bringing fans into the fold, Savoy has been doing this in droves recently. To be clear, the name of this band is a reference to the vaunted Harlem dance hall. Much like Count Basie did in the space that inspired the band’s name, this Brooklyn trio only wants to get people on the dance floor. They started this process when they were students at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Playing with live instrumentation, they couldn’t quite get the sound that they wanted to achieve. Rather than pursue a ghost, Gray Smith and Ben Eberdt spent a year learning how to use music software. The result was a sound that reflected rave music they had been inspired by.
Although they found the aesthetic they wanted, they did not want to lose the instrumentation. Mike Kelly provides this by playing live drums. Given that they are inspired by the idea of the rave, Savoy puts much emphasis on rocking the crowd. Their music, which pulls equally from Electro House and Dubstep, is high energy, and they’ve built up quite a following for themselves because of it. They can be seen at the Blue Moose on Feb. 5. (Note: This show will also involve a copious amount of lasers, so don’t forget your sunglasses.)
Bright is a word that isn’t frequently used to describe Seattle. While the sun can disappear for long periods of time, the hip-hop scene of the city has been ablaze. Artists like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and THEESatisfaction have released albums and toured, leaving broken mics and amazed audiences in their wake. Dark Time Sunshine is another group to come out of the Emerald City. Although they haven’t reached the heights of their colleagues, this is not to say that they are weak. On the contrary, they are an excellent duo, recalling the sound of early Def Jux artists.
While they share the frantic production and wordy rapping style of that era, Onry Ozzborn and Zavala are not calling upon the futuristic soundscapes of El-P. Instead, Zavala’s productions are a mix of dream pop aesthetics and hip-hop style. The result is a sound that is full of echoing synthesizers, spacy loops, 8-bit sound effects and hard-hitting drums. All of this pairs well with the literate, laconic flow of Ozzborn, especially on their 2012 full length release, ANX. Fans of Aesop Rock and Def Jux will find a whole lot to like in Dark Time Sunshine. They will be rocking the stage at Gabe’s on Feb. 19.
A.C. Hawley is the host of The Chrysanthemum Soundsystem, which airs on Thursdays from 10 p.m. – 12 a.m., on KRUI 89.7 FM.