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Dirty and lived-in

Olympia trio Le Grotto carry a swagger and a ragged charm

Le Grotto’s second LP, Bump the Lamp, confirms their status as one of Olympia’s best bands. Photo credit: Facebook

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It's easy for a city's music scene to fall into complacency, for bands to break up or slow down, for audiences to find themselves too busy to come out in support of artists, for everything to start a scene collectively melting into the couch for months at a time. As someone who pays a lot of attention to local music -- for personal and professional reasons -- I find myself sometimes absolutely despondent at what may be a perceived lull in what I know can be a truly electric South Sound.

Seemingly every time I find myself feeling this way, a band (or two or three) will come along to inject a pep into my step, filling me with hope for a newly revitalized landscape. This first happened with me hearing the Elephants, then Makeup Monsters, then the Speedwobbles, then Fruit Juice, then Kilcid Band, then Mr. Motorcycle, then Gender Wizard -- and on and on, a cycle that repeats itself every year or two. Perhaps this is a sign that nothing is ever as dire as it seems, and if venues go away, bands move out of town, and the nights seem empty and quiet, there's always something on the horizon.

One band that jolted me awake, recently, and has kept me optimistic about where South Sound music is heading, is Olympia trio Le Grotto. In September, they released Bump the Lamp, their second LP, coming after their 2016 self-titled debut. To my great relief, and further excitement, their sophomore effort not only solidifies their position as one of Olympia's best bands, it has brought a greater variety and bracing vitality to their sound, which already felt like a worn denim jacket: lived-in, utilitarian, unpretentious and effortlessly cool.

Le Grotto is made up of Laith Scherer on guitar and lead vocals, Will Willard on bass, and Alek Gayton on drums. Their projected image of slacker bros (their Facebook bio simply says, "Vaping Rules") belies the talent and craft that is on display in their music. Much like when Ween (falsely) said that one of their albums was influenced by huffing Scotchgard, back in the day, Le Grotto seem interested in downplaying how tight and accomplished their musicianship is. Though they make it seem natural, there seems to be a sixth sense for melody and feel on Bump the Lamp.

Scherer's warbly voice, flush with character, stands front and center on the songs, and his shaggy vocals are matched by instrumentation that feels both relaxed and dialed-in. Think Pavement, but with more flourishes of psychedelia and rambling road music. "Don't Tell Me Your Horoscope" may be the most emblematic of Le Grotto's songs, with the way that it maintains their earlier, ramshackle ways, and also sneaks in new innovations, like the baritone sax provided by Bob Hemenger. Here, and elsewhere, Le Grotto recalls the Nuggets-esque vibe of the Growlers, blending a walking bass with dirty blues, all tied in a bow with odd vocal samples and a ragged charm.

Find me an accomplishment better than the 55-second "My Name's __". This is a song that gets its message out in under a minute, after nearly 20 seconds of fading in, and lands with more oomph than many bands can summon in three minutes. It's a surfy psych song that knows precisely what it needs to do, and when it needs to be done. Le Grotto, for their self-styled griminess and lax attitude, are showmen at heart; when they find the beat, when the melody is right, when the vocals create a magnetic pull, they know just when it's time to say goodbye. Let's hope they don't really say goodbye any time soon.

LE GROTTO, w/ Lonely King of the Mountain, Face the Sun, Toast Ghost, all ages, 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 10, donations accepted, Le Voyeur, 404 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.943.5710,

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