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Jolting excursions

The Salt Riot bring melancholic highs and lows

The Salt Riot evoke the swirling dynamism of Jeff Buckley. Photo credit: Facebook

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A few years ago, I saw a show at the New Frontier where multiple bands got together to cover the entirety of the late Jeff Buckley's classic album, Grace. What that night illuminated to me was that, no matter how iconoclastic and indelible the music of Jeff Buckley was, those songs are well-written enough to be fairly easily transported to other artists' styles. Buckley's voice is inextricably linked to songs like "Grace" and "Last Goodbye" can't be overstated - and his untimely death helped to preserve that 1994 album in amber for future generations to enjoy - but a strong songwriting job can do wonders when it comes to others coming along to do a cover.

I see a fair amount of Buckley's influence in the music of Seattle trio The Salt Riot. Buckley's swirling dynamism is particularly felt on "Boom," the second song off of The Salt Riot's recent LP, Dead Star. Julia Vidal has a similar pomp and tone to Buckley, her voice rising and falling in dramatic fashion, surrounded by subtly complex instrumentation from Jack Machin on bass, Nick La Pointe on percussion, and Vidal's own guitar and synths. It's music that's lightweight and muscular and the same time, nimbly shifting from slow-burn intensity and rafter-shaking explosions.

Another band that leaps to mind while listening to The Salt Riot is Radiohead, which is fitting, since Thom Yorke's performance frequently strikes me as the opposite side of Buckley's coin - a social outcast and a prom king both indulging in wildly operatic, idiosyncratic vocals that function as much like instruments as the guitars do. There's a melancholy energy to The Salt Riot, creating a compelling interplay that draws the listener in, only to get yanked back to alertness with each guitar stab or bone-rattling bass riff. The virtuosic musicianship becomes a fascination as you delve further into Dead Star, each crystal-clear pluck and strum ringing out and leading you down paths of discovery, with Vidal's voice as your companion.

I've written before about bands that seem designed to accompany you on long road trips or lonely walks through town in the dead of night, but The Salt Riot is a band that seems more appropriate for lying in bed, with your headphones on and your feet posted up on your bedroom wall. There's a fullness that belies their three-piece nature, handily combatting the inherent chilliness of the music. At times, as on "Angel," The Salt Riot recall the guitar-rock of ‘90s alternative bands, even calling to mind Britpop journeymen like Travis and Blur.

When The Salt Riot get ferocious, as on the charging "Rich & Famous," they have a knack for raising heart rates and getting dangerously close to the kind of band that you wouldn't want to run into in a dark alley. With galloping guitars and warbling synths, "Rich & Famous" comes as close as The Salt Riot can to seeming like they're moments away from jumping the tracks and causing some serious damage. Most of their songs, while they contain the possibility of destabilizing outbursts, are studies in sustained tension, not-quite-languidly drifting along with the threat of impending upheavals always looming.

A lot of writing about music tends to boil down to avoiding just coming out and saying what everyone wants to know: yeah, but are they good? The Salt Riot have dug themselves a nice little spot in the world of indie rock, not reinventing the wheel but doing what they do very well. This is intricate rock that leans ever so slightly into progressive directions, making every song a little journey with every excursion giving the listener a delightful little jolt.

THE SALT RIOT, w/ Baby and The Nobodies, Rachelle DeBelle and the Jamfest Miracles, 9 p.m., Saturday, March 5, Cover TBA, 4th Ave Tavern, 210 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.786.1444

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