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Keeping it off kilter

The unimpeachable weirdness of Young Devil

Frontman Jeff Stillwell provides shape to the weirdness. Photo credit: Thurston Talk

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"Clap Your Hands," the first song on Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's self-titled debut, was met with a lot of resistance by music critics. The lo-fi, circus-y feel of the song, was interpreted as the band being needlessly difficult, especially as the entree to an album full of buzzing, synth-y, crowd-pleasing hits. Why begin such a winning album with a song that might turn people away?

Unlike most of the critics at the time, I was an unabashed fan of "Clap Your Hands," which reminded my 15-year-old self of the delightfully weird music that I had begun binging on. Groups like Ween, They Might Be Giants, Pavement, Guided By Voices, and others, had started seeping into my brain, with their deeply pleasurable experiences of pleasantly shallow experiments. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah started off their album of admittedly off-kilter pop with something so upfront in its weirdness as to challenge any and all comers. Want to hear something awesome? Well, you have to get past this gate, first.

In that time, it seems like the tide has turned on "Clap Your Hands." Whereas that song initially came as a confrontation in the mid-'00s era of the indie rock boom, it now seems as quaint and unassuming as anything that might actually end up on the radio. Nowadays, the boundaries of what qualifies as pop-oriented have descended into some sort of nether realm of musical experimentation. What the average, even mildly adventurous listener will tolerate has grown and mutated into a wonderfully diverse, ever-unpredictable landscape of sounds.

Into this fray falls Young Devil, a band from Olympia that instantly triggered my mind to turn back to "Clap Your Hands," and its innate stubbornness. Young Devil's music finds its voice - through the quirky unpredictability of Dan Deacon - in the founding voice of Jeff Stillwell. The electronics of it all function as a delicate backbone, but the music rides on the buzzing, absurdist, absolutely unimpeachable weirdness of Stillwell.

Whereas "Clap Your Hands" was the oddball intro to an album of quintessentially fantastic pop songs, Young Devil starts out their self-titled record with a shot across the bow that gives a perfect image of what is to come: lo-fi madness with a hint of ‘50s reverence. Yes, everything is bonkers, but Young Devil take the time to do a pretty faithful version of "Life Could Be A Dream," which shows how dedicated they are to the pop format, even though it exists within a pageant of pop deconstruction.

Afterwards, Young Devil get back to what they do best: murky pop songs dressed in electronics that couch these songs in underwater grooves. Every melody comes raging through a mist of overblown instrumentation. Whenever there is a pop song that climbs through the sound, Stillwell comes across less like a frontman, and more like a supportive man who comes through the din to give these songs some shape.

For the most part, the songs of Young Devil come across like perky, experimental ditties, packed with potential and presented for the public with little intention of review. I almost feel bad talking about this music, because it seems like Stillwell recorded these pieces only to get played out into the ether. Seeing him play these songs, as he will at Le Voyeur, will probably be the next-to-ideal way to hear these songs, as hearing anything half-cooked in that concrete box will render everything a valuable experience.

Also performing that night will be Rare Diagram - a band that I wouldn't write about, being that they have only one song release. But! That song is awesome, with its midnight mood and its ‘70s sound, so I'd recommend going.

YOUNG DEVIL w/ PVTL Clash, Rare Diagram, Get Married, June 18, 6:30 p.m., $5, All Ages, Le Voyeur, 404 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.943.5710

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