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Prone to panic

Real Life Buildings make indie rock that jangles nerves and then calms them

Real Life Buildings balance nervous indie rock with calming elements. Photo credit: Facebook

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Have you ever experienced a panic attack? My first one happened when I was a youngster. It was the night before my first day of the school year, and I was suddenly seeing spiders all around my house. They had most assuredly been there the entire summer, but I was now confronted with at least one in each room of the house. They weren't doing anything, but I was put so much on edge that I spent hours, frozen, in the middle of the room, until the sun came up. My mother pityingly gave me a small glass of wine to unwind my nerves.

In the intervening years, I've found myself with friends prone to panic. There's a feeling of helplessness that comes with calming down a panicking person, especially if you are also burdened with anxiety. You find yourself forced into the position of being the level head, as awkwardly as that role might fit you. This dichotomy is one of roleplaying, of acting like an adult when you normally feel like anything but.

It's this struggle of panic and order that seems to define the music of New York outfit Real Life Buildings. Matthew Van Asselt is the core of Real Life Buildings, but he's since surrounded himself with a cadre of musicians to help soften his edges. The result is Significant Weather, the second LP release from Real Life Buildings. The nervous energy of Real Life Buildings' first release, It Snowed, remains, but it's cushioned by a sure hand of order. Yes, Van Asselt's songs still relish in stop-start dynamics, stutter-step arrangements, and verbose lyrics, but these aspects are buoyed by a band that adds a bit of levity and sense of control to what otherwise might end up a total meltdown.

Unlike other bands that trade exclusively in nerves, Real Life Buildings is a band that tends to build their foundation on shaky ground, only to explode into huge, overwhelming choruses. The Arcade Fire mastered this approach to music more than a decade ago, but Real Life Buildings accesses this emotion without the chamber rock flourishes that defined other bands with aims at emotional clarity. This is a guitar-rock band that saves a moment for the inner life, drawing inspiration out of personal moments and making them global through life-saving riffs.

Amongst all of the churning rock around him, Van Asselt is the centerpiece. His words, of course, are the defining element of the songs, but his deadpan vocals strike the most immediate chord. It recalls indie rock titans like Stephen Malkmus and David Berman, though it sometimes rises up to the cathartic level of the songs it's accompanying. Played at once, Significant Weather runs from front to back like one big song, full of love and disdain. Song by song, though, the album is a monument to self-expression and the power of rock, much in the same way as Titus Andronicus' The Monitor - which I consider to be one of the best albums of the past 25 years.

When your nerves get jangled, when your panic is rising, when you can't find a friend that's even keeled enough to get you through, music's always there for you. Frequently, you don't turn to soft rock to calm you down; instead, you find a band like Real Life Buildings. Understanding can sometimes be better than placation. In these instances, it's nice to have a band that knows exactly what you're going through, and is able to express that in art that makes your body move. Looking elsewhere can find you listening to soft rock, and no one wants that.

Real Life Buildings, w/ Blood Orphans, Box Fan, First Boyfriend, 7 p.m., Sunday, May 14, Cover TBA, Le Voyeur, 404 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.943.5710

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