review by RJ Cubarrubia
photos by Katy McCourt-Basham
Ok, we admit, we missed the First Semifinal Round of Experience Music Project’s Sound Off! competition, where winners Dyno Jamz automatically advanced to the Final Round and runners-up Dearboy earned a spot to the Wildcard Round against the other second place finishers for the last spot in the Finals. But hey, better late than never, right? This time we were ready for the biggest under 21 music event in the Northwest; Sound Off! continued February 21 with Round Two, featuring two duos, a local favorite, and a band that came all the way from Canada.
Vancouver’s alt-funk-rock five piece Free City Collective started the night with their diverse sound and set. Appearing in their first US show, the group began their set with a particularly funky and heavy song, “20th Century Blues”; the song was had a heavy signature riff accompanied with a delicate, lush verse. Both guitarists had tons of guitar effects and used them effectively, combining unique bluesey-psychedelic tones to match the synthesizer and keyboard combo of the frontman. Unfortunately, the band straddled too many genres, creating an inconsistent set. All members are extremely talented musicians, and when they’re at they’re best, Free City Collective absolutely shreds, but some of their songs feel a little incomplete. Still, their energy, technical skill, and warm attitude created a great vibe for the night.
All girls love Michael Cera. All dudes love Michael Cera (except the dudes that are jealous that Michael Cera is stealing all their girls). So two dudes who both play guitar, drums, and sing while looking cooler than Michael Cera? When Tacoma’s indie-pop duo Makeup Monsters took the stage, I took one look at them, one look at their eleventy-bajillion screaming (and mostly female) fans, and one listen to their delightful indie-pop, and I remembered why I wanted to start a band in high school (for the girls, not to make good pop songs). Switching every few songs between drums and an ultra-clean guitar gushing with reverb, the duo played a number of short and well-written songs that could easily be on the soundtrack of the next Michael Cera movie. “Rarin’ To Go” particularly caught my attention, with a fun, dance-y beat and warm, optimistic tones that make for a fun sing along. Makeup Monsters played a consistent set and were very impressive.
Next up was Seattle favorite Brier Rose; named after the princess in the Disney animated movie Sleeping Beauty, their name accurately describes the drama involved in their music. Putting on their best Radiohead/Muse impression, Brier Rose played a powerful set full of loud melodies and emotional vocals. “A Better Life” was especially noticeable, with a slow, loud, melancholy, haunting chorus reminiscent of the best of Muse. The band relied heavily on guitar effects to create that haunting sound, but while they were talented musicians, they showed inconsistencies in their songwriting. However, their set was still solid and their best songs carried the set well.
Mount Vernon’s garage-indie duo The Mission Orange finished the night with a set full of shred. Both members’ impressive technical skill and high energy drove their live performance, creating a unique mixture of the best parts of 90’s Midwest indie-emo (think American Football, Cap’n Jazz, Mineral, The Promise Ring, etc.), garage rock, punk, and progressive rock. The set was largely instrumental, showcasing the frontman’s beefy guitar chops and ability to dance and shred simultaneously while still looking reasonably rad. “Hammer Fever” rocked; with aggressive guitar parts, a beautiful mid-song breakdown, and sparse vocals, the song highlighted the impressive skills of the young duo. Although the songs were diverse, the instrumentals were well written, and the set was enjoyable throughout.
At the end of the night, Makeup Monsters were announced as the winner and automatically advanced to the March 7th Final Round. Runners-up The Mission Orange will be placed in the Wildcard Round, where online votes from February 28th to March 2nd will be tallied and the winner will take the last spot in the Final Round. Brier Rose took home the Audience Response Award. The Third Semifinal Round is February 28th at the Third Level of EMP. For more information, including voting for the Wildcard Round, visit Sound Off!’s Myspace page and website.