Separate but Equal
You want to understand Seattle. You want to embrace its alluring contradictions and dysfunctional genius, its smug independence and poorly concealed hunger for validation. You want to feel the pulse of a city that thrums with creativity.
So here’s what you do. Go get two albums of music: 2012 by Truckasauras and Muscle for the Wing by the Maldives. Both come out this month, and in them you’ll find the opposite ends of Seattle’s artistic spectrum. Along with some great songs, at those poles lies the eternal conflict between two very different approaches to making music.
Thing is, you can’t “go get” 2012 in the tradi-tional sense. It exists experientially, as a series of monthly events around Seattle. Per a statement released on the Truckasauras website in March:
Our goal in 2012 is to re-evaluate the relationship between the listener and performer.
The “Record” released will be the collective work of everyone who chooses to participate in and around these events. By physically interacting, taking photos, videos, or sound recordings, as well as starring in them, the public will make a vital contribution, and in fact be the authors of the final work. Time and place as analogues to rhythm and tone.
The band members—Kirkland-born, Seattle-based—admit to having only a vague understanding of what all of this means. It’s art, it’s punk, it’s academic, and it’s not meant for your little sister or your mom. It’s less a product than a process, each piece feeding the next. The events have been fun and challenging and attended by a small, dedicated cadre of very hip nerds. The band presents 2012 with zero pretense of commercial appeal. Throughout Truck’s five-year existence, creative deviance has always been Their Way.
Few bands would bother with such heady excursions—music for art’s sake. Fewer could so casually and so successfully pull it off, making a party out of pretension. The balance of Truck’s aesthetic—lowbrow meets high concept, white-trash signifiers (Hulk Hogan video backdrop on-stage, the band costumed in stars-n-stripes bandanas and capes) colliding with impeccably constructed drunk-robot party music—makes it possible.
Say you wanna own a piece of this weird endeavor. You’re in luck. Offered at each event has been some variety of 2012 artifact: a hand-drawn poster, a short film on VHS tape, a vinyl 7”. Additionally, you can download ten 2012-associated songs once the cycle culminates at the band’s Heineken City Arts Fest gig on Oct. 19.
Of those 10, six are standard-format songs in classic Truckasauras style, i.e. fully instrumental, built from vintage drum machines, synthesizers and a Nintendo Gameboy, bumping and buzzing electro-rock anthems hotwired with life. “Skipper” is especially attentive to melody, its haunted minor-key movement vivid and hypnotic. “Everyone Here Is a Goblin” begins in squelchy 8-bit ambient mode before shifting into trunk-rattling booty bass. “Yoked” surges on the collection’s fastest tempo, a last-call floor-filler at Super(bad) Mario’s Next Level Disco. These songs are the warm viscera of 2012.
Then there’s “Bothell Trance,” a sound experiment commissioned by the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London as part of an exhibition called Soundworks. It was officially released on the museum’s Soundcloud page a couple of months ago. It’s 2012’s intellect.
“Bothell Trance” sounds like waking up in an ICU to the sober staccato of four EKG machines, four electronic heartbeats pumping out of synch. The pitch of each beat rises and falls, seemingly at random. At various intervals throughout the composition’s 15 minutes, bleeps and bloops coincide, fusing into surprising, momentary climaxes resembling melody, and then dispersing back into abstraction. The effect is simultaneously euphonic and disorienting.
If you know the work of avant-garde composer Steve Reich, you know what I’m talking about. These are sounds arranged not to hum along to but to tease common understanding of time and space. Another pair of compositions, “808 Phase” and “303 Phase,” comes with instructions. They go even deeper into Reichian wonkitude with theory and effect I won’t try to describe.
Whether or not it’s in your wheelhouse, you should hear this stuff. You’ll return to the easygoing world we all agree to call “music” with a different ear.
That world, of course, is where the Maldives flourish.
The Maldives are a band’s band, a group of people who engage in the pedestrian, joyful practice of getting together and jamming the hell out. Their purview of rock and country music lies close to the heart of their Ballard homeland. Their progenitors, unmistakably, are Neil Young and Crazy Horse and the Band. Muscle for the Wing, their third full-length album, comes out Oct. 16 (on vinyl!), a few days before their headlining set at Heineken City Arts Fest. It’s a love letter to classic American songwriting, a wonder of well-nourished craftsmanship.
That title: poetry. As evocative a phrase as any you’ll hear this year. The song of the same name, planted like a banner at the album’s center, is an elegant, understated classic. Jason Dodson coos, “Do you know what I mean? Muscle for the wing/Forest for the birds to sing.” Tonally, lyrically, Dodson is one of Seattle’s great unheralded voices. Around that voice, banjo, piano, and electric guitar. The song’s pensive mood rises at the end to something almost buoyant. Beautiful.
“Modern country” is alien to most Seattleites, terra incognita on the FM dial to be avoided at the cost of indie cred. The Maldives study it like text, its ear for big, catchy melodies, its eye for precise narrative detail. They embrace it alongside its more fashionable forebears. In an ideal world, Muscle for the Wing will unite the tribes—fans of roots country, alt-country, and modern country.
Actually, in my ideal world, the two bands would play the same stage the same night. At various points in the last few years, Truckasaurus has been dubbed the Neumos house band and the Maldives the Tractor Tavern house band. They’re both most vital on stage, as their obsessive cult followings—more like families—will attest.
Imagine the Truckadives Fantasy Showcase! Fist pumps and devil horns flying unchecked, instruments being abused, a storm of sweat and music and Rainier beer. Both bands blasting at top volume, giving away every ounce of energy, proving themselves and their methods. Both bands coming from very different places at the start but ending up together in the moment, exactly where they belong.
Truckasauras plays Heineken City Arts Fest on Friday Oct. 19 at FRED and the Maldives play Saturday, Oct. 20 at Neumos. Truckasauras photo by Kyle Johnson, Maldives photo by David Lichterman.