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Blissful exuberance

Seattle quartet Kuinka makes indie folk-pop with jubilant positivity

Kuinka’s music is so joyous and spirited that you can’t help but go along for the ride. Photo credit: Facebook

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Paul McCartney recently did an interview where he ran down some of the best songs that he wrote for the Beatles. At a certain point, after discussing the likes of "Hey Jude," "Let It Be," and "Blackbird," McCartney noted how proud he was that, for the most part, Beatles songs tended to be pretty positive (we won't talk about Lennon's infamous "Run For Your Life," but point taken, Paul). And, for the most part, McCartney's right about that; while the Beatles had their fair share of downbeat songs, politically charged numbers, and experimental freakouts, their catalog is filled with songs that lean more on hope and positivity. At their best, the Beatles brought a jubilance and a lively sense of celebration to the airwaves.

I was reminded of McCartney's words while listening to Seattle quartet Kuinka. While it would be an oversimplification to say that positivity is a recurring theme in their songs, their music does possess that wide-eyed jubilance that makes it near-impossible not to want to come along for the ride. Made up of Nathan Hamer, Zach Hamer, Miranda Zickler, and Jillian Walker (with frequent aid from John Benefiel on sax, clarinet and synth), Kuinka make an exuberant stew of folk, indie rock, and chamber pop, with synth flourishes tying everything together. Their spirited live sets have inspired something of a following, which eventually landed them a performance for one of NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts earlier this year.

While their upbeat, stomping folk-pop may initially inspire flashbacks to the great beige wave of posturing folk-rock acts from the past decade, Kuinka seems utterly earnest in their desire to make anthemic, textured music that makes you move. Additions of classical instrumentation like cello and clarinet provide a more well-rounded, complex sound, and synths and drum pads further help to modernize Kuinka, helping them stand out from some analog fetishists in the scene. Rather than allow themselves to get stuck in a genre that places a large emphasis on homage, Kuinka has a more restless, searching energy.

Still, the hallmarks of soaring harmonies and sing-a-long choruses remain very much a factor for Kuinka, leading to earworms like "Curious Hands," the kickoff track on their 2017 LP Stay Up Late. On this song, Zickler takes lead vocals, while Nathan Hamer fills that role on others; truth is, every member's voice is heard at one point or another, bringing around that "family band" vibe that is never quite missing from the band. Hamer, meanwhile, sings lead on "Mistakenly Brave," which sort of recalls Graceland-era Paul Simon.

The cynicism that all too easily works its way into the hearts of music fans will always find a way to resist a band like Kuinka, to push back a little at their big, open-hearted, unambiguously fun sound. In those moments, I advise you to quiet that part of you, and reflect on how wonderful it is to exist in a world where bands strive to make joyous music; sorrow, anger, self-loathing, angst, and every other dark impulse all have their place in the great spectrum of artistic expression, as does Kuinka's blissful effervescence.

KUINKA, all ages, w/ SISTERS, 7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 15, Alma Mater, 1322 Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, $12 ADV, $15 DOS,


The day before, on Sept. 14, Alma Mater will be hosting Independencia, a dance party with proceeds going to benefit the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. Music will be spun by local DJ Smokey Wonder, including reggaeton, salsa, cumbia, latin pop, hip-hop, and more. Suggested donation for the event is $5, though surely you can come up with a few more dollars for such a worthy cause. Later that night, Lucha Libre Volcanica will be occupying Alma Mater's Fawcett Hall. If you've never seen live wrestling before, let alone the more high-paced Mexican wrestling, you're in for a wild time.

Independencia, 5 p.m., $5 suggested donation, Lucha Libre Volcanica, 9 p.m., $15-$30, Alma Mater, 1322 Fawcett Ave., Tacoma,

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