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Sister Girlfriend reeks of unironic cool

Sweet baby makers

Hall & Oates meets ‘80s house music in Olympia Monday. Photo credit: Christina Hicks

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Hall & Oates is one of those bands that it's very easy to scoff at: the dumb hair and mustaches, the painfully sincere music and the blue-eyed soul. Still, in this era of post-irony, where hipsters are able to enjoy cheesy music without ever having to keep it at arm's length, listening to Hall & Oates' sultry tones is as accepted as browsing the Beatles' catalogue. Even if this weren't the case, H&O (as the kids call them) are the kind of band where you could attend a concert and realize that you know about 20 chart-topping hits by heart. This is pop music done right, by two ridiculous people, for the sake of humankind.

Now that indie music has increasingly begun to incorporate pop music into its life, we've found ourselves at an interesting crossroad, where the underground no longer has any fear of selling out or sounding too corporate; instead, bands have folded Top 40 sounds into their brand of uncompromising idiosyncrasy, resulting in the lo-fi R&B of How To Dress Well and others. Weirder still, though, is a band like Sister Girlfriend, which smashes together the blue-eyed soul of H&O with the frantic house music of two decades ago. It's experimental in the oddest way: not charting new ground, but taking two sounds and violently spinning them in a centrifuge to see which comes out on top.

"Sister Girlfriend started out as a duo between David Balatero, who plays bass, and I," says keyboardist Rob Hanlon. "Eventually, we added our friend, Ryan Batie, on vocals, and did five or six tracks in the studio. ... When we started out, we wanted to be a Prince-style funk band, which is why we're called Sister Girlfriend - it's named after two Prince songs: ‘Sister' and ‘I Wish I Was Your Girlfriend.' ... We started out with more production-heavy stuff, but we've since moved on to a more organic approach. There's no unifying concept that we try and go for; we just try and write music together."

The music that emerges from Sister Girlfriend is full of push-and-pull contradictions. If you were to look at their submission for the Tiny Desk Concert contest submission, what you would find would be a baby-making band, full of sultry notes to carry you through the dark night. On another song, you'll find Batie doing his best Daryl Hall, while accompanied by jittery house music. It's an odd combination that belittles both elements, thus rendering the whole enterprise something completely separate from the sum of its parts.

"We try to write around Ryan's vocals, and just see what sounds we can make," says Hanlon. "We're working on an EP right now that definitely has a more unified aesthetic. All of the stuff on our SoundCloud is us just trying to find out where we're going. ... We have a wide variety of styles that we draw on. We have pretty Steely Dan-y pop songs, and we have a house song that we also play, but it all comes together because we have this earnest aesthetic and we keep Ryan's vocals the center."

I had to ask about sincerity, with Sister Girlfriend. In this day and age, heavily referencing a canonically uncool band like Hall & Oates sends up hipster red flags. Still, Hanlon insists that their blue-eyed soul is being played perfectly straight, which bolsters the music and sends it sailing beyond the realms of ironic detachment. What we're left with is pure, unadorned, baby-making music. Take it at face value and sashay up to someone.

SISTER GIRLFRIEND, w/ Grex, Shadows, 8 p.m., Monday, March 23, Deadbeat Olympia, 226 N. Division St., Olympia, $5, 360.943.0662

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