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Skates and school dances

Trans FX evoke melancholy images and shared memories

Olympia duo Trans FX are masters of dreamy pop with an electronic edge. Photo credit: Trans FX

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Roller rinks hold a place of power in the minds of people of a certain age. The further away we get from our childhoods, the more mythical the stature of roller rinks becomes. For me, the vibe of roller rinks combined my two least favorite adolescent experiences: going to a school dance where the possibility of making out with someone was palpably felt, and having to do one of those Presidential fitness tests in front of my classmates. It didn't take much imagining for me to come to the conclusion that I was proficient at neither dances nor physical activity. In short, this was a venue where embarrassment lurked around every corner.

For other people, though, roller rinks get a hagiographic treatment in their memory. Soft lighting and disco ball shimmer gets overlaid on a group of wistful teens, with the perfect song soundtracking every youthful flutter. Couples' skates were to be desired, not feared. Meanwhile, every party I ever attended at a roller rink ended with me clomping along awkwardly on my skates, over the carpeted area, as I hid by the arcade games. The dreamy world of roller rinks was better left to everybody else.

Yet still, the image conjured up by these roller rinks is a potent one. I don't think it's a coincidence that Olympia duo Trans FX (interchangeably, it seems, shortened to Trans FX) chose to shoot the music video for their song, "Why I'm Not Where You Are," at Skateland in Olympia. For every confident skater doing dazzling tricks in the middle of the rink, there are couples nervously navigating their way around in circles. Occasionally, you'll catch a glimpse of dark pockets where one or two people have chosen to sit this one out, like I would have.

Trans FX's music is the perfect accompaniment to this imagery, effortlessly evoking all of the feelings people have of adolescent yearning and fear. A rigid drum machine is swallowed by melancholy synthesizers and swooning vocals, creating the sort of ersatz ‘80s sound that might've fit in a John Hughes movie, but more likely would end up in a present-day movie that romanticizes those earlier times. The same feeling accompanies another song of theirs, "If I'm Losing You," which boasts an even more stripped-down video, simply following a couple in their early 20s up an intimidatingly long escalator out of a subway, as the man slowly leans his head on his lover for support.

While Trans FX might find their sweet spot in this sort of melancholic haze, their songs are usually bolstered by a sparse, mechanical beat that evokes the stark sound of Suicide, or of Tears For Fears' first (and best) album, The Hurting. The lushness of the songs found on Trans FX's debut LP, Into the Blu, is achieved in a roundabout way, with lo-fi technology being utilized for its intrinsic feel, which outweighs its limitations, frequently finding an almost club-ready groove. Songs like "Living Thru Glass" play up the coldness of the synths, while the album's title track is a winning bit of tentative sunshine that plays wonderfully against the lead singer's narcotic vocals.

In researching Trans FX, I couldn't find much real information about who the two culprits behind the band are. They - or at least whoever wrote their bio - describe themselves as "drifters," and so it seems that a little mystery is what they'd aim to embrace. Wherever they came from, or wherever they're going, if I'm judging by their art, they seem to know where a lot of us have been. It's not easy to access those innate images and shared memories, but Trans FX do it well in their own, idiosyncratic way.

TRANS FX, w/ Memory Boys, Bonnie and the Jots, Friday, March 18, 9 p.m., Cover TBA, Obsidian, 414 4th Ave. E., 360.890.4425

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