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Fractured soul

Seattleā€™s Black Giraffe make broken funk and passionate pop

With Black Giraffe, the Ayers brothers made twisty, fractured funk. Photo courtesy of Facebook

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As odd as it seems now, I somehow got through most of my formative years without having really heard the music of Prince. I suppose I knew from places like Saturday Night Live and other cultural pockets about his "Artist Formerly Known As" period, and from Chappelle's Show that he was flamboyant, but I had never really heard him. One day, though, riding in a car with friends, I listened to "Darling Nikki," and promptly had my mind blown. Much like when I was introduced to Pulp, I was stunned to hear an artist singing so frankly about sex; add to that the immersive production, the enormous sound of "Darling Nikki," and it was a truly gobsmacking experience. It was another surprise to then hear "When You Were Mine," that delicate gem of a pop song, and realize that it was by the same guy

Black Giraffe strikes me as a group of people who were deeply inspired by Prince - the band says as much, in a blog post following Prince's death, even as they acknowledge that they came to his music somewhat late. It's no surprise to hear, as they note, that they were first into grunge, progressive rock and jazz. As much as Black Giraffe embraces soul and funk, they tear down and rebuild these influences into fractured nuggets of pop, songs that stutter as much as they strut. While Prince was a consummate showman and an impeccable songwriter, he was also inclined to take song structures and lead them away from the most direct route from A to B, finding interesting excursions and experimental shifts along the way, even as his songs remained profoundly accessible

"Right Back," the lead track off their Drunk Tank Pink LP, serves as a sort of mission statement for Black Giraffe. Marked by stop-start dynamics and Andy Ayers' confidently soulful croon, "Right Back" sometimes comes off as withholding, showing the audience that Black Giraffe could make a straightforward funk number if they wanted to, but that they find it more interesting to keep things off-kilter. Don Ayer, Andy's brother, provides a sturdy backbone for Black Giraffe, with drumming that's simultaneously tricky and utterly compelling, reminiscent of the National's drummer, both fascinatingly precise and with a predilection for unconventional patterns. In the more recent iteration, Ben Rudd has come in on drums, without losing that textured feel

Elsewhere on Drunk Tank Pink, Black Giraffe seem inspired by other indie rock bands with a penchant for fractured funk - whether that comes in the form of Menomena-esque structural weirdness, or the fuzzy synths and spindly guitars of "Spin," making them come off as a lighter TV on the Radio (Andy Ayers' mix of tenor and airy falsetto even sometimes bears a resemblance to Tunde Adebimpe). The brief "Lily" is the closest Black Giraffe comes to your standard indie rock, cramming anthemic chords into a tight, all-instrumental package, like a less grandiose Fang Island

Lately, Black Giraffe has incorporated new elements into Black Giraffe, as on recent single "Talk Cheap," which features Lauren Wells on vocals and violin, and Rob Hanlon on alto sax. The crunchy, noir-leaning track benefits from the violin stabs provided by Wells, providing even more texture and tension to a band that already possessed those qualities in abundance. "Talk Cheap" is as swaggering as Black Giraffe gets, really capturing the machismo that Prince would let peek through from beneath the sexual ambiguity.

Prince proved that there are many ways to tackle soul and sexuality, and his devotion to exploring the medium has resulted in a huge array of artists seeking to do the same. Black Giraffe look soul in the face while approaching from the side.

Black Giraffe, w/ Youngest of Elders, Monday, June 13, 6 p.m., Cover TBA, All Ages, Le Voyeur, 404 E. 4th Ave., Olympia, 360.943.5710

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