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Sincerity and frivolity

Pale Noise finds the platonic ideal of '60s and '70s pop

Pale Noise approaches classic rock with an open-hearted loneliness. Photo credit: Ashley Campbell

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I've spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about a trend among bands that emulate the sounds of ‘60s and ‘70s garage-pop: for whatever reason, a relatively significant number of these bands end up covering "Hang On Sloopy" by the McCoys at some point in their careers. If I were offered a grant that would allow me to take a year off and study this phenomenon, I could give you a concrete theory for why this tends to happen, beyond the simple observation that it's a goddamn classic.

All I have right now is that these bands, like any right-thinking person, have arrived at the conclusion that "Hang On Sloopy" has aged into the platonic ideal of ‘60s pop on the eve of its ascension into a groundbreaking art form. There is an elegance to the song that transcends its simple story of a girl in the neighborhood that's captured our narrator's heart, an emotional acceptance of Sloopy's modest means in the face of other people's ridicule - and all of this without robbing the song of how much fun it is to sing along to, with its rollicking, wide open chorus.

One of my favorite memories is seeing the beloved, defunct Speedwobbles incorporate "Hang On Sloopy" into their closing number at live shows. The Speedwobbles were a who's who of extremely talented Seattle and Tacoma artists, including singer-songwriter Spencer Kelley as an occasionally contributing member. In band after band (such as Wallpaper, Basemint, and Santee), Kelley injected his love of ‘60s pop and helped to strike the balance between sincerity and frivolity. After years away from full-time participation in the music scene, Spencer Kelley recently returned with a new album of material as Pale Noise.

Pale Noise's debut LP, Some Crude Grace, is a lovely distillation of Kelley's musical peccadilloes, from the shambling rock of the Velvet Underground (echoed in "A Coward Reachin' (for a hero's gun)"), to the Rolling Stones bounce of "Terrible People," to the Marc Bolan-indebted glam of "Everyday Ordinary Lazarus," to the gorgeously pastoral balladry of "Silver Screen Beauty Queen." "A Somewhat Heroic Man," meanwhile, sounds like Harry Nilsson's "Jump Into the Fire" if it had been recorded by John Lennon during the two's infamous lost weekend.

All along the way, Some Crude Grace is delivered with the kind of polish and generous hooks that place it firmly in the era of the music to which it's paying tribute. The album was written by Kelley before he had a permanent band, necessitating the rounding up of a cavalcade of local music ringers (including members of Mirrorgloss, Oberhofer, Makeup Monsters, and People Under the Sun). When it came time to start performing this material live, Pale Noise's lineup was cemented with the inclusion of Conor Sisk and Joel Mars, both alumni of the Speedwobbles, as well as Tacoma musician Cory Thomas.

The main outlier on Pale Noise's debut is its closing song, "Drunken Pirouette," with its slow-burn psychedelia that oddly enough recalls Pink Floyd and Radiohead, while simultaneously sounding the closest to the singer-songwriter intimacy that Kelley had been practicing in his time between bands.

Also performing on Saturday will be the Silver Dollars, taking a quick break from their time in Brooklyn to release their new 7". Made up largely of Tacoma natives, the Silver Dollars similarly find their niche in ‘70s rock, though they tend to err on the side of folk-rock and country, finding a middle-ground between AM pop and the outlaw country movement, which all of the dusty harmonies that implies. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more fitting accompaniment to Pale Noise's open-hearted loneliness.

THE VALLEY, w/ the Silver Dollars, Great Spiders, 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 13, $5, 1206 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, 253.248.4265

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