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2016 Best of Olympia: Kimya Dawson

Best Local Celebrity

Olympia’s music scene is lucky to have Kimya Dawson. Photo credit:

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Years ago, I sat in People's Park to attend an intimate, outdoor show featuring Kimya Dawson. Earlier in the show, one of the opening bands played a cover of "What's Up" by 4 Non Blondes. Later, when Kimya Dawson sat down to play, and confessed that she had to leave the park during that earlier set because she can't stand "What's Up." At the time, I was confused, because it seemed like a perfectly catchy, harmless song to me.

Having now hosted karaoke for several years, I would just like to say to Ms. Dawson: You were right. "What's Up" is a scourge and I'm sorry for ever doubting you.

But, for that small number of people not in the know, Kimya Dawson has done a hell of a lot more than try in vain to warn me off of 4 Non Blondes. Dawson has been an indispensable part of Olympia's music scene for over two decades, first rising to prominence as one of the founding members of anti-folk legends the Moldy Peaches. With a mixture of surreal storytelling, interchangeably violent and twee imagery, and painfully honest revelations, the Moldy Peaches and, later, Dawson on her own, came to define a generation of lo-fi folk-punk.

Most people became aware of Dawson through her soundtrack work on Juno which, while certainly painting a decent picture of her musical style, didn't quite tell the whole story. Yes, it captured the no-frills intimacy of Dawson and her acoustic guitar, as well as the unspooling of pages of lyrics that tends to define her work, it definitely erred on the side of cutesy. Nothing on that soundtrack approached the depravity of a song like "The Beer."

As some people began to turn on Juno in the inevitable backlash that surrounds a successful indie movie, some of those people also dismissed Kimya Dawson. Misquided as this is on its face, it's even more so when you consider breadth of variety in her work, which includes a children's album and a collaboration with Aesop Rock as the Uncluded, as well as appearing on songs by the Mountain Goats, They Might Be Giants, and Ben Kweller.

Kimya Dawson's last solo album, Thunder Thighs, was released back in 2011, but her presence in the Washington music scene remains a vital one. On March 12, she'll be performing at Real Art in Tacoma with local favorites Pig Snout and Lobsana. 

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