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No punches pulled

Chicago's Hobbyist bring massive impact to minimalist music

Chicago’s Hobbyist comes to Olympia Sunday. Photo credit:

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Why is it that minimalism always sounds much harsher than the lush efforts of bigger bands? There's an aggression at play with minimalist bands that transcends the limitations of production. Bands like Suicide and producers like Steve Albini recognized this phenomenon, erring on the side of thinness and lo-fidelity in favor of the immediacy that these qualities brought. Maybe it has something to do with the intimacy of live performance and the relative difficulty with capturing this magic on tape. The next best thing to a live record would be to isolate the most potent elements and to deliver them in a vacuum.

The Chicago duo Hobbyist, consisting of vocalist Holly Prindle and multi-instrumentalist Marc Mozga, has nailed this aesthetic. While there's no lack of complexity in the arrangements on their 2013 self-titled LP, the drum machines, guitars, synth, bass and other sundries are given the room to breathe and escalate. This is challenging music that draws upon the post-punk movement, Nine Inch Nails, Karen O, and the odd dose of math-rock, as on the wild "Gin."

When Hobbyist really want you to hear the message, they focus on Prindle's magnetic lead vocals, isolating them from the torrent of instrumentation that occasionally arises. Prindle's voice is a mutating instrument, capable of delicate crooning and feral howls. Religion, gender politics, personal affronts, and critical examinations of the economical and racial disparities of Chicago are just some of the subjects broached by Hobbyist. When it comes to any of these topics, Hobbyist are not fond of pulling any punches, but rather to let their words and music run head-on into murky waters, cutting neat paths as they do.

As an example of the perfect marriage between Hobbyist's spartan language and their gut-punch arrangements, let's look at "Soulless Lies." Beginning with a refrain from Prindle, which grows and expands over the five-minute song, we're also met with a spindly piano lick. More musical parts are added on - synth bass, martial drums, layers of distortion - ratcheting up the tension and implicit anger, as Prindle recounts how she used to speak in tongues when she was younger, but has now come to realize that life ends in nothing but death. Life is nothing but what you see as face value, she seems to be saying. When Mozga's covals come in, as they sometimes do, he opines that he has all the creature comforts one could want, but "for what?" The latter bit of the song finds its way to a swampy Modest Mouse vibe before crashing and burning.

While this material could easily end up being a depressing ordeal, Hobbyist manage to make it invigorating and infuriating, in that way the righteous musicians do. There's no preaching, here, just two people who come out of the gate swinging, fully armed with their beliefs and a shared distrust of the world. When Isaac Brock sings about the world being vast and meaningless, it's implied that the only true thing he believes in is himself and the people he loves.

Similarly, Hobbyist are firmly humanist - equally disdainful of certain folks as they are loving of the genuine people. Sometimes, though, it takes a rough hand to knock the senses into you, and Hobbyist excel at breaking hard truths in a hard way, without making you long to give up or turn the music down. It certainly doesn't hurt that their music is so frequently catchy, even as it keeps you on your toes. This is sneakily minimalist stuff, creating whole worlds of sound out of very little, with two voices guiding you through the madness.

Le Voyeur, w/ Slithy Toves, Jeff Stillwell, Subman, Sunday, Nov. 15 10 p.m., $5, 404 E. 4th Ave., Olympia, 360.943.5710

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