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Tasmanian undertow

Heart Beach finds warmth in negative space

Heart Beach’s fuzzy minimalism is warm, but not relaxing. Photo credit: Facebook

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I've always been attracted to bands with big, full sounds. Maybe it's because I grew up listening to music from the ‘50s and ‘early ‘60s, which frequently reveled in lush productions and sweeping, romantic compositions. This was music that intended to use every inch and power of the recording studio to worm its way into ears and hearts. Half measures, minimalism, starkness - these qualities were relegated to the sidelines of popular music, with awesomeness of scope taking the spotlight. In songs with messages as simple and universal as two people falling in or out of love, the fullness of sound gave the impression that nothing could be more important.

Of course, as with any other art form, popular music continually finds itself in a tug-of-war when it comes to prevalent styles. Lots of musicians found themselves resistant to overindulgent production, and found themselves creating new styles to combat the perceived bloat in pop music - which is how we ended up with stuff like punk, New Wave, grunge, and the resurgence of garage rock in the early ‘00s. These days, when genres have splintered and mutated, when there aren't really any movements to speak of, there's emerged a growth of artists reinterpreting old sounds and shaping them into something new. Bands may reach for this giant sound of the past, but there's an equal number of bands that have found value in silence.

Heart Beach, based out of Hobart, Tasmania, find their power in negative space. While they're not quite in the camp of slowcore or other genres that make use of pregnant pauses or molasses-paced tempos, Heart Beach do succeed with crafting indie rock that trades in slowly building tension that largely eschews release. Though delicate, each song trembles with the implied threat to erupt at any second. The trio, made up of Claire McCarthy (bass and vocals), Jonathan McCarthy (guitar and vocals), and Christopher Wessing (drums and guitar) call their genre "ocean pop," but they don't evoke the surf-rock frivolity of other bands. Rather, their music calls to mind the waves and their treacherous undertow. Though laidback, these are not relaxing songs.

Sometimes, as on "Marcus," Heart Beach access an ‘80s vibe, like a band that might have played on a bill with the Vaselines or the Smiths, or perhaps would have found themselves featured on a John Hughes soundtrack. The McCarthy's sing together, creating a boy/girl dynamic that really found its foothold in ‘80s college rock, this salty and sweet combination that plays well off of the fuzz-laden guitars. Their voices stand front and center, with the instruments providing a loose bed underneath, leaving plenty of room for empty spaces to lend contrast and a sense of isolation. This isn't depressive music, but it also doesn't pander, playing standoffish and asking for the listener to meet it halfway.

Where artists used to find expansive arrangements to be an easy in for romantic songs, bands like Heart Beach show that restraint is just as compelling. Hearing the McCarthy's dual vocals accompanied by simple but striking instrumentation, regardless of the content of the lyrics, can put the listener into a reverie. There are certain bands that are ideally suited to fill the air during long car rides at night, and they're usually bereft of the buoyant energy that might soundtrack a road trip. Heart Beach land that sweet spot of inspiring introspection without sending one spiraling into a state of downbeat reflection. These negative spaces serve as tender arms by which to be embraced, and the warm voices and guitars can be blankets in which to be wrapped.

Heart Beach w/ Guram Guram, Thursday, Dec. 15, 10 p.m., Cover TBA, Le Voyeur, 404 E. 4th Ave., Olympia, 360.943.5710

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