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Season of Strangers and their distorted wall of sound

Sonic divergence

Lino Fernandez isn’t who you thought he was ... he’s changed once again. Photo credit: Darcy Oliver

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Even though it shouldn't be, it's a surprise when a musician takes a new direction. We've been conditioned to think of artists in one way or another, so any stray movement is met with derision and disbelief. Straying from what we perceive as an artist's sweet spot is a controversial move for a lot of artists. Some people, like David Byrne, find success in constantly challenging expectations. Meanwhile - to use an extreme example - Garth Brooks was roundly ridiculed for trying to reinvent himself as an alt-rock singer under his Chris Gaines moniker.

Granted, that whole Chris Gaines thing was ridiculous, but I think you get my point.

In the Pacific Northwest, there are a million bands and even more musicians. As such, there is no shortage of artists reinventing themselves and finding new avenues of musical expression. One such artist is Lino Fernandez. After spending years in the garage rock band the Dignitaries, as well as the AM gold fetishists that comprised Bandolier, Fernandez has branched out in recent months to become part of an all-Filipino Hall and Oates cover band (the Little Donuts), as well as a shoegaze-oriented band (Season of Strangers) that diverges from everything else that he's put out so far.

"Bandolier disbanded in September," says Fernandez. "Even before that band broke up, I had been working on songs with my friend Mandy McGee, who is in the band - she plays keyboard and sings. Since last spring, I was just writing songs with her. I wasn't sure if it was gonna be for a full band, or if it was gonna be a project just for us, but when Bandolier broke up, I brought along the rhythm section, which is our drummer, Samir Baillie, and our bassist, Joel Sayson. ... We started practicing as a full band in October."

Season of Strangers, Lino Fernandez's new band, is a pretty substantial departure from the output that we've come to expect from him. Whereas his previous work has valued the styles of ‘60s garage rock with the Dignitaries and the bouncy AM gold of Bandolier, Season of Strangers sets its sights on the early ‘90s and groundbreaking bands like My Bloody Valentine, with their emphasis on walls of distorted sound. Shoegaze, as a genre, was dependent on the tone of the guitars, which formed a sort of levy to keep the inherent emotion from running over. Still, shoegaze was permeated with feeling, even as the music kept you at arm's length.

Where Fernandez's earlier bands utilized a female voice to add texture to songs that would have otherwise been somewhat empty without a little bit of beauty to smooth out the edges, Season of Strangers employs Mandy McGee to fill out the buzzing cacophony that makes up their sound. Lino Fernandez affects a laid-back tone, but it's McGee who rounds out the distorted songs and gives them weight. Through the torrent of guitars and blocky textures, it's remarkable how clearly the two singers come through in full voice and character.

Keeping tabs on musicians in the South Sound is ostensibly my job, and it gets really interesting when someone takes a big step out of their comfort zone. Fernandez has skipped and jumped several zones away from where I know him to be, and he's all the more exciting because of this. Season of Strangers may not be the most groundbreaking band in the world, but Tacoma is lucky to claim them. Only time will tell how far they swerve into the wild west of sounds, but it remains exciting to see them drench their guitars into the murky milieu of the early ‘90s.

SEASON OF STRANGERS, w/ Fang Chia, the Jesus Rehab, Terrapin, May 30, 8 p.m., $5, Bob's Java Jive, 2102 S. Tacoma Way, Tacoma, 253.475.9843

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