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Slacking towards progression

The indie twist of Wow, Laura

Tacoma’s Wow, Laura makes twisty indie rock. Photo credit: Facebook

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After so many years of writing about music, the one thing that still fascinates me is the myriad ways in which bands have found to combine genres and era into a bizarre soup. As far as pop music is concerned, there has always been a bungee chord effect that finds groups of one generation reaching back to earlier ones to inform their music. It's always been a give-and-take. But, starting around the time of the Internet's infancy, suddenly every up-and-coming band was exposed to every piece of music in the known universe, which resulted in a rash of young bands combining elements from all of recorded history, and essentially rendering the categorizing of music either irrelevant or impossibly hard to follow.

One of the things that I couldn't have foreseen was the young indie crowd embracing progressive rock. My dad spent years exposing me to King Crimson, Gentle Giant, 10cc and the like. It turns out, if I had been born a couple years later and had gone to a cooler school, all of my dad's time and energy wouldn't have been needed. In the span of indie bands being exposed to music of all kinds, progressive elements just happened to find their way into the scene, and with little to no push-back from young music lovers. In other words: Difficult time signatures and uncommon melodies were received in open arms from bands that still stubbornly refer to themselves as "slacker rock."

There is nothing slacking about Wow, Laura, even if they may present themselves as such. Gone are the days when presenting challenging music required you to dress like a professor from the future. Wow, Laura are just four dudes who are eager to explore the outer limits of indie pop, leading listeners on journeys where a song may morph into several different things while always retaining an element of listenability that evades some of the more hardcore explorations in progressive rock.

Wow, Laura's most recent album, Death Drives a Honda Civic, is a testament to how far they can push the boundary of experimentalism while retaining that catchy vibe that keeps the casual listener hanging on. Starting off with the seven-minute "We Don't Talk" is a kind of ante, this thing that Wow, Laura puts on the table to see if anyone is willing to match it and stick around for the ride. For a while, "We Don't Talk" approaches the sort of muted, anthemic type of music that you might have heard from bands in the early ‘00s. Then, the tricky guitar-work comes in and the listener gets used to the herky-jerky rhythm that permeates the rest of the album.

The vocals, by Levi Gosteli, in combination with his guitar tones, at time recall a very ‘90s aesthetic. Even if Wow, Laura never approaches the oddness and lo-fi charm of Pavement, the influence is heartily felt. While everything is so clearly planned out, there is a charming, slap-dash feel to everything that summons the style of Stephen Malkmus. These are a quartet of dudes who are throwing everything at the wall, and even if it all sounds technically proficient, it's the glee with which it's thrown together that ultimately relegates it to slacker-rock. This is music made by people who want nothing more than to fit every trick they can into as small a space as possible, and that's what makes it exciting.

Bands now have a glut of influences to choose from, which can sometimes lead to a disaster, but more often leads to the kind of mish-mash glory that is Wow, Laura.

WOW, LAURA, w/ Allan Boothe, Dunce, Friday, Dec. 11, 10 p.m., No Cover, Half Pint Pizza Pub, 2710 6th Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.2531

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