Remember the days when “alternative music” (though always a misguided, annoying term) sort of meant something? Just like how “punk” at one point didn’t refer to anything and everything with angry-sounding vocals. Seattle band The Valley evokes those early years of the “alternative” 1990s when Sub Pop Records was a fearless cradle for independent music and Mudhoney and The Pixies forked over fuzzed-out distortion and edgy, melodic vocals.
The Valley’s self-titled debut is a grungy time-warp threaded with modern instrumental trappings made popular by current Seattle favorites The Lights. Songs like “Emergency” grind clunky drumming against the churning distortion of power chords. “Instant Winter” begins with acoustic strumming before breaking into a wall of frothy guitar emulating Sonic Youth’s signature sound. The best tracks are when Jim Laws cracks into his drum kit like a madman and Dan Beliot yells his vocals with earnest fervor. The grunge-in-space feel of “Cold Killa’” is less contagious than other songs, but at least it adds divergent contours to the album’s topography.
In today’s context of whiskey rock ’n’ roll and progressive rock, suddenly a reminiscent album like The Valley’s feels fresh as new snow. Welcome back, old friend, welcome back. (Erika Fredrickson)
The Valley plays upstairs at Higgins Alley Thursday, Nov. 17, at 9 PM. Cover TBA.
Flower of Avalon
Signature Sounds Recordings
Before Dave Carter’s sudden death in 2002, Tracy Grammer and Carter made waves in contemporary folk music. Grammer sang the award-winning songs that Carter wrote and both picked guitar. Carter was fluent on banjo, Grammer fiddled and was a production-whiz in the studio. The duo was the most-played act on folk radio in 2001 and 2002, and was supporting Joan Baez on tour in the summer of 2002 when Carter suffered a massive heart attack and died in Grammer’s arms.
Flower of Avalon is Grammer’s first full-length album since Carter’s death. The songs, all penned by Carter, paint lush landscapes with complex and catchy lyrics. Her vocals never demand the spotlight—Grammer’s “self” disappears, making way for the important task of giving voice to Carter’s stories. Not that her singing is unpolished—rather it shines or rattles at the appropriate moments, giving depth to Carter’s playful and thoughtful words.
Several musicians join Grammer on the album, giving each song a sound and life of its own. Mary Chapin-Carpenter sings on three tracks and Jim Henry (Grammer’s current tour partner) lends vocals, dobro, mandolin and guitar. Without a trace of sentimentality, Grammer has successfully built on the momentum she and Carter created. (Caroline Keys)
Tracy Grammer plays The Crystal Theatre Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 8 PM. $16 at the door, $14 in advance, $2 discount for Missoula Folklore Society members.
This Portland trio’s eponymous sophomore album begins perfectly: “Rows of Unbending Lines” gradually eases to life, like sunshine spreading westward at daybreak—there’s even the distinct sound of a wind chime blowing in the breeze to better set the mood. The instrumentation slowly builds until layered electric guitar is blasting exuberantly over bubbling bass and drums.
The catchy “Brighter Rays/God Damn Your Energy” begins with casual piano and dreamy bells that sound a lot like ethereal Icelandic masters of ambiance, Sigur Rós. But this feel gives way to Chris Larson’s beat-driven vocal delivery, which is similar to that of Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock.
Invisible has one foot in alternative indie rock and another in atmospheric music. In fact, the album flows so well that it’s sometimes hard to tell where one song ends and another begins. This soundtrack feel lends itself to their unusual live shows—Invisible performs in front of video backdrops that show constantly morphing imagery that complements the music nicely and makes for a tangible multi-sensory experience.
For being Invisible, it’s easy to see these three musicians have creativity in abundance. (Quinn Riedy)
Invisible plays the Higgins Alley, Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 9:30 PM. $5.
Strange and Beautiful
A $20 bill won’t buy you a Volkswagen, but it will buy you the music from a Volkswagen commercial and a gallon of BioDiesel. Keep the fuel handy in case you fall into a VW of your own, and then use Aqualung’s Strange and Beautiful for a Thanksgiving travel soundtrack.
Ever since the title song appeared in a Beetle commercial, the German car company’s e-mail inboxes have been flooded with inquiries from interested listeners. The recipient of the love is Great Britain’s Matt Hales, aka Aqualung. Born above his parents’ independent record store, Hales has been creating music since the age of 4. Were it the year 2025, Hales would be a pillar in the “Oughts Revival” that’s sure to come back to haunt us just as the ’80s have made their way back today, capitalizing on the nostalgia of Generation Xers. But it’s 2005, and Aqualung sounds a lot like watered-down Radiohead or Coldplay. The music is beautiful indeed, in the same way that stainless steel is beautiful—simple, level and cold. Well-imagined and produced electronic and symphonic sounds back up Aqualung’s stark lyrics, but at times Hales’ wintry voice so resembles Thom Yorke’s that the listener may wonder why this guy who grew up with an entire record store at his disposal didn’t choose a more obscure artist to mimic. (Caroline Keys)