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Nocturnal soul

The impeccable pop R&B of Pickwick

Pickwick remains a source for immaculate pop R&B. Photo credit:

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There are a lot of milestones that come with growing up listening to music: leaving the comfort of the music that your parents played for you, using their teachings as building blocks to discover bands on your own; getting the first pangs of abandonment when a favorite band releases a bad album; making a mix for a certain someone for whom you're developing feelings; and any number of other pit stops along the way. One such milestone, for me, was realizing how deeply painful Marvin Gaye's "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" actually is.

I had grown up with the now-defunct oldies station KBSG constantly on in the background. I understood these songs as largely pop fluff and, as such, "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" was just an incredibly catchy song to sing along to in the car. As a teenager, I could finally listen to the lyrics and hear all the hurt in Marvin Gaye's gorgeous voice as he tries his best to put on a brave face, even as he pleads and accuses his lover of conspiring to break his heart. While the sentiment was couched in beautiful production and compelling hooks, listening again with any amount of life experience opens up the song and changes the way you perceive it from then on.

Ever since R&B and soul legends like Marvin Gaye hit the radio, other bands have been trying to emulate them, even though most aren't able to access anything deeper than that surface sound that transfixed me as a kid. Pickwick is just one example, but a good one. The Seattle five-piece is uniquely capable of creating immaculate, reverent approximations of ‘60s R&B, but with a charmingly DIY edge that assuages any worries of appropriation or ill-intent (like how some people view the Black Keys, especially with their latter-day output).

Pickwick's 2013 full-length debut Can't Talk Medicine is brimming with potential pop hits, lovingly rendered in the style of those soulful artists from 50 years ago. Their early demos caught fire immediately, and with Can't Talk Medicine, it's easy to see why: retro-leaning bands can sometimes feel like pale homage, but when the songwriting is as strong and vibrant as it is with Pickwick, no one bothers feeling manipulated. Beginning with the lurching stomp of "Halls of Columbia," the LP instantly has a nocturnal vibe,; that dark night of the soul that was always reached by those artists who weren't afraid to lay everything on the line.

Beyond hearing the styles being affected by Pickwick, the second thing that becomes apparent is how wonderfully in-tune the band members are with each other. They play in the pocket, leaving no fat needing to be trimmed. Standout "Hacienda Motel" approaches the uncanny valley of homage, coming as close as possible to hitting the ear falsely, but is saved by just how impeccable and tasteful the musicians are with taking elements of ‘60s soul and molding it just enough to put their own stamp on it.

"Lady Luck" is the song on the album that most resembles a snake eating its own tail. It's a cover of a song by Richard Swift, himself a stylist known for reaching back in time to compose modern pop with retro feel. The vocals on the track are shared with Sharon Van Etten, who has gone on to become a big deal in indie circles with her intimate songwriting.

This is a band that makes me nostalgic for a time when I could sing Marvin Gaye in the car with my mom, before I could empathize with the pain of what he was saying. For all I know, though, there are people coming of age right now who may have a similar milestone once they finally really listen to a Pickwick song.

REAL ART TACOMA, w/ Bod, Spirit Award, All Ages, Fri., January 1, 7 p.m., $16 ADV, $18 DOS, 5412 S. Tacoma Way, Tacoma,

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