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Through the night

The jittery post-punk wails of Dark/Light

Dark/Light make relentlessly jittery post-punk. Photo credit: Facebook

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Sometimes I think about the two trips I made several years ago to New York City and regret the fact that I never made it to the mythical birthplace of punk known as CBGB. I was taken by the grittiness that still existed in the city, to some degree, and thought that making a pilgrimage to the famous punk club would bring the whole trip into sharp relief. I was misguided, though, as I later learned that I missed the venue's closing by two years, with Patti Smith doing the honors of saying farewell to a rock and roll landmark.

Several years later, the origin of CBGB would be made into a film starring Alan Rickman and a bunch of lame impersonators lip-synching along to album recordings of the bands that put CBGB on the map. It should be avoided at all cost.

What was birthed in that club had an indelible impression on the trajectory of music, branching out in all directions, from New Wave to hardcore to post-punk and tons of other, obscure subgenres. Of those branches, the one that tends to stretch further into the dark nights is post-punk. It's strangely satisfying to put on headphones and walk through the lamppost-orange streets of a city at night, or to climb into your car and aimlessly drive to the buzzing sounds of some early ‘80s brooders.

There's a Portland band called Dark/Light that touches these feelings quite effortlessly. They even have a song called "Night Driving," taking all of the guesswork about what should be soundtracking your solitary excursions. The song, with its martial beat, wobbly guitars, and nocturnal mood sounds like it should be in the background of Martin Scorsese's story of NY paramedics on a dark night of the soul, Bringing Out the Dead. The singers intone about "night driving me insane" in between howling at the moon. It's incredibly effective in its simplicity.

Beyond their music, I don't know much about Dark/Light, but their music speaks well enough for itself. The female lead singer's wail wouldn't have sounded out of place at Patti Smith's CBGB sendoff. With guitars that squirm and wriggle out of your grasp, even as they settle into their own jittery groove, Dark/Light is a band that refuses to stop moving. This is a band that broadly classifies itself as punk, but they also allude to being kindred spirits with mutants and freaks, just as those first bands popping out of the glut of what music had gelled into before striking out with their own unique sounds.

Post-punk is a necessarily nebulas term, as it encompasses a variety of sounds that came out of the scorched earth that punk had created. Still, there are plenty of identifiers for the genre that Dark/Light manages to hit. They're theatrical without being flashy, tapping into a sort of primal energy through which to channel their modes of expression. When it all comes down to it, Dark/Light are just four people using the same instruments everyone else does, but the way they bend and contort these sounds is what makes them special. This is wiry music that doesn't pummel so much as it spins you like a top, or wrap you up like a spider in a web.

CBGB went the way of the dodo, but what we learned from those times is the importance of creating your own scenes led by new heroes of punk. Dark/Light exist in the fertile musical landscape of Portland, but their roots run deep, letting us enjoy their extremely loud fruit. For long walks at night, a band like Dark/Light helps you reach the dawn.

CBGB, w/ MILK, Dark Palms, BS-System, Thursday, Aug. 20, 8 p.m., $5, New Frontier Lounge, 301 E. 25th St., Tacoma, 253.572.4020

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