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Hopping genres

Real Don Music breaks beats and shimmers in the dark

Kirk Huffman brings an eclectic groove to Real Don Music. Photo credit: Shane Williams

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One of my favorite musical discoveries of the past decade remains the seven-song debut of That Handsome Devil from 2006. While the band would get more attention later from their modest indie hit, "Rob the Prez-O-Dent," that initial, self-titled album is still a high point for That Handsome Devil - a breathless mashing together of eclectic style and pointed world-building. Led by inimitable frontman Godforbid, That Handsome Devil combined funk, punk, hip-hop, blues, jazz, surf rock, cartoonish posturing, and a generous dose of samples (the oddest one being a snippet of Sean Penn's narration from The Assassination of Richard Nixon) into a wild stew that begs the listener to guess which direction they'll go next, knowing that they'll always guess wrong.

I sense a kindred spirit in Kirk Huffman, the mind behind Real Don Music, an outfit based out of Seattle. Huffman cut his teeth with the orchestral psych-pop of Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground, as well as the considerably more mind-melting experimental garage rock of Wild Orchid Children and the early-'00s emo of Gatsbys American Dream. It's a strange thing, then, to find him now at the helm of Real Don Music, which draws far more inspiration from hip-hop and electronica, with a healthy backbone of trip-hop to keep everything a little off-kilter.

Like That Handsome Devil, Real Don Music finds energy in mixing and matching genres, peppering the debut Dank Sinatra EP with breakbeats, samples, jubilant horns, sultry bass lines and glossy synths, creating a whirlpool of textures that draw you in. Capable of sounding dark and menacing one second and luxurious and romantic the next, Real Don Music is a project that avoids easy descriptors. In some ways, I'm reminded of that first Gorillaz album, when Damon Albarn was so infectiously testing the waters of his new sound, unafraid to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the wall, just excited to see what would emerge, while still holding on with a professional hand to keep everything from falling apart.

Huffman doesn't come off as much like an impresario as Godforbid does (though that would be hard, seeing as Godforbid seems this close to just transitioning into a cartoon character), but he still manages to stand strong as the voice in the center of this musical experimentation. He rises to the occasion when things get chaotic, as on the rambunctious "Axeman Swings," but can also croon with the best of them when the lights get dimmed, like on the shimmering "The Ballad of Richard Swift" - and make no mistake, it can't be a coincidence that similar genre-hopper Richard Swift gets name-checked in a Real Don Music song.

This genre tourism occasionally comes together in such an organic way that it's a wonder the song isn't already a huge hit, which is the case with "White Man in Black," a weightless toe-tapper in which every one of Huffman's musical peccadilloes gels in such an effortless way. It's a bright song, buoyed by a joyous chorus of horns and nimble scratching, lifted even higher by a falsetto refrain that solidifies the song as a genuine pop gem. It's only on closer listening do you catch on that there's something deeper going on in the lyrics.

Eclecticism isn't the be-all-end-all for me, when it comes to getting excited about an act; I can be perfectly happy to hear someone doing one thing very well. Still, it can certainly be thrilling to be swerved just when you think you've gotten to know a band. While Real Don Music doesn't have the mania of That Handsome Devil, there's enough shared DNA to keep my ears pricked up.

REAL DON MUSIC, w/ Animyst, the Spider Ferns, Richie Dagger's Crime, 9 p.m., Friday, April 22, Cover TBA, Obsidian, 414 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.890.4425

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