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The Total Bettys combine pop-punk with a streak of disarming honesty

San Francisco quartet The Total Bettys mix confessions with fist-pumping anthems. Photo credit: Nicholas Klein

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I've written before about the relative positives and negatives that come along with honesty in songwriting. In general, I'm in favor of bearing as much of yourself in your art as you feel comfortable doing. Whether or not these admissions help or hurt your work is an entirely other matter. On one hand, we all now have a uniquely intimate knowledge of what Rivers Cuomo looks for in a girl, and that's something I might like to have never been clued in on. We also, in other arts, have Manhattan - great movie though it is - as standing proof that Woody Allen has always basically been a creep.

On the other hand, I can list many more fulfilling examples of an artist shredding all artifice and embracing the challenge of living openly in the public eye. Ezra Furman is currently nailing it with a series of albums that invigoratingly combine elements of jumpy indie rock, doo-wop, fiery punk, and soulful singer-songwriter-isms - AKA my ideal combination - with lyrics that find no end to his depth of self-examination. That he can do it with sincerity and a wink, talking about his gender identity, his inability to connect with others, his dalliances with substances, makes the experience of listening all the richer.

Speaking of Rivers Cuomo, since power pop and pop-punk sort of merged forces in the years following emo's emergence, there's been a paramount placed on being as truthful as possible in the stricter confines of a catchy pop song. Removed from the intimacy of one person and one guitar, bands have risen up to buoy the words of one individual, giving us acts like Ida Maria, Rilo Kiley, and Titus Andronicus. San Francisco pop-punk quartet the Total Bettys fall into this category, with a knack for blending anthemic melodicism and relatable themes into an infectious confection that manages to pluck heart strings and get feet involuntarily moving.

From the opening tones of "I'll Fix It," the first track off of their recent album Peach, the Total Bettys reveal a fascinating mix of guarded emotions, upfront confessions, and the vacillating that comes along with protecting yourself while also trying to live as an honest person. On "I'll Fix It," frontwoman Maggie Grabmeier projects confidence with a wounded undercurrent. This combination is especially resonant on "You'll Be Sorry," with Grabmeier warning a lover not to leave her, saying that he'll never be able to forgive himself for letting a good thing go. Deciding just how much that message is self-serving, and how much is genuine, is a running theme that develops throughout Peach.

The Total Bettys rock a tight group of musicians, able to find the most direct route to fist-pumping bliss; in addition to Grabmeier, we have Bri Barrett on guitar, Chris Nolasco on drums, and Sami Perez on bass. For every lyric establishing Grabmeier as a hopeless romantic, and a romantic underdog - effectively explored in "Stay Here All Night," which details her misadventures in trying to pick up men - the band successfully buoys what might otherwise be quite painful songs. As it is, the Total Bettys find deep wells of strength in exploring weaknesses, like feeling helpless in the face of love.

In songwriting, as in relationships, it can be a difficult thing to do to expose your innermost thoughts and insecurities. What if you reveal too much? Making that leap in art and life can result in some amazing things, though, so I will always stand by my recommendation to do so early and often. The worst thing that can happen in being an open book is that some people won't like what they see. Well, I like the Total Bettys, and I'd love to see more.

The Total Bettys, w/ Squilll, First Boyfriend, 8 p.m., Tuesday, July 18, $5, Obsidian, 414 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.890.4425,

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