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Sonic mirages

Heat Shimmer makes desert music for the Pacific Northwest

Like a desert mirage, Heat Shimmer will transfix you. Photo credit:

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Decades of visual art have worked at finding a shorthand to depict inescapable temperatures, utterly brutal exertions of force on the part of our planet to get us hunching our shoulders and bending at the waist in a futile effort to shield ourselves from the elements. Our current frigid, soggy months are covered by artists in myriad ways, from rain-soaked clothes to treacherously hanging icicles to steam unfurling in thick clouds from the mouths of those looking to warm their hands. For the warm seasons, though, one bit of visual representation has remained a constant, finding its way into every depiction of a hot urban area, or whenever our hero gets lost in a desert - it's become such a staple that cartoonists can't make an animation of a desert without including a mirage, also known as a heat shimmer.

Light shining through heated air creates this rippling, glossy texture that we all know immediately as a sign that whatever landscape we're viewing is an oppressive nightmare of sweat, hypnosis, and the never-ending hunt for water. In pop culture, characters that find themselves seeing heat shimmers are losing touch with reality, their brains being spirited away on gales of desert winds. Really, though, we all see heat shimmers with a fair regularity, whether they come writhing off of egg-frying asphalt, or obscure the image of a jet taking flight.

The band called Heat Shimmer, though, is located in Olympia, a city largely bereft of honest-to-goodness mirages, even if their music might suggest otherwise. One of the trio's strengths is in their ability to create hazy, fuzz-laden rock that keeps finding new ways to overwhelm the senses - doomy surf rock, as they call it, even if that doesn't quite tell the whole story. Images of beaches don't enter the mind when listening to Heat Shimmer; rather, as their name hints, one is musically transported to an arid climate far removed from crashing waves or the incessant rain of the Pacific Northwest.

On Heat Shimmer's debut, self-titled LP, the band shifts through a few different modes, sometimes heaping on the heaviness of their self-described doom moniker, but just as nimbly drifting through dream-pop and the jangly rock of the ‘80s underground scene. Made up of Amber Claxton on bass and vocals, Madi Erbe on guitar, and Johnny Bayles on drums, Heat Shimmer exists in a tug-of-war between sweet and sour. The jubilance on display in songs like "Blood on Your Hands" the Smiths-esque "Dead Sam - their dark titles belied by their upbeat vibes - are balanced out by the cacophonous stomp of "Boys on the Run" the funereal "Earth Angel."

This dichotomy melds together the best on opener "Soft Serve" and lead single "Gently Used," but the constant running through every song, lending texture and uplift, is Claxton's lead vocal. Elastic and searching, yodeling and hiccuping, howling and cooing, Claxton's voice is most immediately reminiscent of ‘90s singer-songwriters like Tori Amos. In that lead performance is an alacritous energy that rides atop the jet stream of the dextrous instrumentation, making for an immersive listening experience that's studded with pockets of fascination to draw you further in. In particular, "Soft Serve"'s exhilarating hook, with Claxton's chirping refrain and Erbe's alternating chiming and scorching guitar lines, sums up well the malleability that makes Heat Shimmer so engaging.

Residents of the northwest may live their whole lives without having their eyes tricked by a mirage, so it's helpful to turn to music as a healthy alternative. Heat Shimmer's moments of clarity cast their stretches of haze in sharp relief.

Heat Shimmer, w/ Table Sugar, Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo, All Ages, 6 p.m., Friday, Dec. 16, Cover TBA, Le Voyeur, 404 E. 4th Ave, Olympia, 360.943.5710,

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