Back to Music

Music’s direct line

Two singer-songwriters come to The Valley with songs that affect your vital signs

Carissa Johnson and the Cure-Alls mine deep emotion for driving power pop. Photo credit: Jenny Bergman

Recommend Article
Total Recommendations (0)
Clip Article Email Article Print Article Share Article

There's something alchemical about music that still remains unknown, to me, even after so many years of being hired to think about it for a living. How is it that we, as humans, have evolved to have our heart rates intensify when we listen to the right song? What mechanism causes the hairs on the back of our necks to rise when the right solo hits our ears? Why are some people bafflingly immune to this -- you know, those weirdoes who profess to have essentially no taste in music at all, or to like "everything except rap and country," whatever that means. At this point, it has become clear to me that music has as much of a direct line to our minds, emotions, and vital signs as a vivid memory or a first kiss. Music can be a consoling comforter in times of need, a rallying call to action, political, personal, physical. Even in the background, as movie scores and time wasted at DMVs have shown us, music exerts its considerable power to influence emotion.

I found myself considering this all while listening to two artists: Carissa Johnson and Vanessa Silberman, both of whom will be performing at the Valley on Friday. First up, we've got Carissa Johnson, from Boston, who performs with her band the Cure-Alls. Drawing from power pop, ‘70s punk, and New Wave, Johnson sits comfortably in the fist-pumping territory of so many acts that came before her. Though her hooks are immediate and dizzyingly persuasive, she possesses a relatable, everyperson vibe that undercuts what she could quite easily parlay into an image of the strutting frontwoman. Her latest album, Talk Talk Talk, builds up a furious head of steam over the course of its nine tracks, marrying unapologetic honesty and blisteringly visceral guitar rock. This is the sort of music that a person fighting their way through middle or high school may seek out to get them through the rough times; frankly it may be something someone in their 20s may turn to in hard times.

From the driving, hook-heavy Carissa Johnson, we go on to the more atmospheric, introspective Vanessa Silberman. Both artists have drawn comparisons to the ‘90s wave of riot grrrl, which is a bit reductive, but of the two, Silberman better fits the bill. The LA singer-songwriter still largely performs with just her own voice and one guitar, which gets washed in prickly dissonance. On tour, she tends to perform with a band, which lends another bit of bite to her songs. On her recently released single, "Outswimming Sharks," she bookends the track with a certain sweetness, but injects of a little bit of the sharpness of Sleater-Kinney and Hole throughout. Silberman's voice, in general, plays around with these two modes, capable of vulnerable beauty and ragged howls (not that the two are mutually exclusive). Her 2016 self-titled EP paints a picture of an artist who's indebted to a certain period of music -- that being the ‘90s and their explosion of grunge -- while also striking out on her own.

Carissa Johnson and Vanessa Silberman, different yet similar, have the capability of reaching into your heart, on through to your nerve endings, and eventually your brain, playing you like the sensitive puppet we all are. Whether you want to rage, dance, wallow, or find someone to love, these are two artists who may be available to provide that soundtrack.

Carissa Johnson and Vanessa Silberman, 9 p.m., Friday, Aug. 31, donations suggested, The Valley, 1206 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, 253.248.4265,


If you're in Olympia, and don't feel like making the trek to Tacoma, Hooves and Beak will be performing at Le Voyeur Friday as well. The complex, invigorating chamber pop quartet is led by harpist Whitney Flinn, and incorporates progressive rhythms and playful stylistic diversions into a sound that's as catchy as it is surprising. Imagine some fuzzy indie pop, and augment that with harp arpeggios and violin dressing.

HOOVES AND BEAK, w/ Deja Blue, Ancient Pools, Sawtooth, 10 p.m., Friday, Aug. 31, Le Voyeur Café and Lounge, 404 4th Ave. E., Olympia, $5, 360.943.5710,

Read next close


The Sonics are Tacoma

comments powered by Disqus

Site Search