Sometimes It's Better to Anticipate a Band Before You Can Actually Hear It
Clicks and streams make up the modern experience of musical discovery, or so they say. Hearing music is now the entry point for new fans, not reading about music or having it suggested by friends. Older listeners wistfully remember mail-order anxiety, or a rich brat in town who remained popular so long as he bought prohibitively expensive import LPs and let everyone listen. Lengthy album reviews are still read, but ideally with some streaming tracks to accompany them. This constant discovery culture is enthralling and empowering, but it also demystifies the listening experience. Anticipating sounds -- the wild-eyed speculation that pressurizes our expectations between hearing about a band and actually hearing a band -- is a powerful force. Discovering a new Seattle rock act called Freak Vibe reminded me of the outdated, more circuitous process.
Browsing a local record store (procrastinating music journalists call this "research"), Musk frontman and shop clerk Rob Vertigo giddily relayed a story. At a recent Freak Vibe show in Seattle, he explained, the vocalist soldiered through a geyser-like nasal infection and sodden attendees loved it. To Vertigo, this story carried the weight of a Best New Music designation on Pitchfork. He found a live video clip. Sickly looking men stagger around the floor. Their woozy riffs careen over throbbing tom-toms and muffled invectives. Amused, but a little put-off by the band name, I left the shop wondering whether I'd endure a snot shower for a good show.
Soon after, Freak Vibe's cassette demo appeared in my mailbox. A band member, identified as Anthony in a brief note, sourced the address from a fanzine I publish called Degenerate, which he found in a record store on tour. The Freak Vibe tape is great to chop vegetables to, it turns out, and especially with a dull knife that requires more thrust and vigor. The tape evokes that image of four downtrodden performers, a malnourished-looking bunch of flailing limbs extracting vitality from their own racket.
Back in the record store some time later, Vertigo excitedly presented his handmade flyer: Musk, Freak Vibe and Burning Curtains are set to play The Knockout on Tuesday, March 25. Scraps of paper, shipping material, spools of cassette tape, and record store hearsay made me a Freak Vibe fan, a process that clicks and streams might've sapped the charm from. Anthony's note ended with a list of Pacific Northwest punk and hardcore acts under the heading "Great Current nw bands" [sic]. The non-hyperlinked list beckons many more roundabout discoveries.
As for bands whose tracks streams online snagged my interest, genre-bending Sacramento trio So Stressed slathers intricate song structures with a post-punk palette of trebly tones. The jarring, nasal vocals are prime for Jello Biafra's affection, since So Stressed is actually reminiscent of Alternative Tentacles 1990s signees. So Stressed open for local sample-happy metal duo Wreck & Reference -- whose anticipated sophomore album was recently announced, due this summer on Flenser Records -- on Thursday, March 20, at Thee Parkside.