A CLOSE-KNIT QUARTET of hard-living twentysomethings, Carissa's Wierd are about to relinquish the hard-won title of Seattle Music Scene's Best-Kept Secret, thanks to their just-released debut disc Ugly But Honest: 1996-1999 (Brown Records). As its name indicates, the CD culls songs recorded over the last four years, pairing stripped-down four-track recordings with lush studio tracks. Their unabashedly gorgeous, D.I.Y. baroque-folk indie-rock is so good it's no exaggeration to expand one's scope beyond the Puget Sound and lump their disc in with the strongest debuts of the year, alongside L'Altra, North Mississippi All Stars, and Sin Ropas. With just two guitars, a violin, and a scaled-down drum kit, Carissa's Wierd (yeah, they know it's misspelled) don't lure so much as lull the listener in, hypnotized by their eloquent, sleepy music. They don't really sound like anyone else, but if you enjoy the music of Belle and Sebastian, Elliott Smith, and Cat Power, you'll be pleased (heck, Ugly But Honest easily bests those artists' most recent releases). Older folks can imagine the Go-Betweens collaborating with Felt and the Incredible String Band on a Mark Eitzel tribute.
Crocodile, Wednesday, June 21
Carissa's Wierd songs always start with a sinuous, spare, ponderously paced, and minor-keyed guitar. The guitar is soon accented by bare piano lines and/or a lilting, seesawing violin line, perhaps punctuated by bare-bones percussion. Soon the singing starts and you're lost in their syrupy-sweet melodies; a male or female voice sings alone, then they overlap and dart in and around one another to crescendo in a pop gold chorus. Like Godspeed You Black Emperor or Dirty Three, C.W.'s music is all about the crescendo; the way they layer their three-to-five-minute songs makes them sound absolutely epic. You'll want to turn off the lights and lay down on the bed to listen; it's so unbearably beautiful it urges you to take it all in fully, without interference. It causes you to feel like a teenager again, light-headed and fluttery-stomached, contradictory elements pulling with tidal force.
Carissa's Wierd's songs contain a tension between the lovely music and the savvy, speechlike, wry, self-deprecating lyrics. Alcohol and heartbreak are the subtext here, but the words deserve the same scrutiny applied to one's favorite song in 10th grade. Scribble these into the margins of your math book: "If I could just see straight I'd gladly head straight for the door"; "Memories might last for years, birthday cakes they always taste like crap"; "People never listen to what you've got to say 'cause they're so damn scared you'll be smarter than them"; "I hate those fluorescent lights." The lyrics are not printed on the CD booklet. C.W.'s adamantly not the kind of band that prints their lyrics. "Our words are something we'd rather hide!" Jenn Ghetto and Mat Brooke exclaim in unison.
THE TWO FOLKS who wrote these words, and the band's creative center, singer-guitarists Jenn and Mat are longtime pals. They have been making music together since high school in Tucson, Arizona. New drummer Ben Bridwell has been pals with 'em since then as well. All three have criss-crossed the country together and now work at the same burrito-and-bar joint, and even spend much of their spare time together. "We're just like the Partridge Family," Mat deadpans. The three are sweet and good-looking in a CK1 ad/Larry Clark photo way. Unlike her bandmates, classically trained violinist Sarah Standard has thus far avoided the urge to cover her arms in ink. She isn't as involved in the others' extracurricular exploits, but she sure plays a mean fiddle; as the only one of them who seems very comfortable performing, she is a highlight of their live show.
The group's only real weak spot thus far is their live show, and they know it. "I would classify us as extremely shy [onstage]," Mat says.
"Before I was in the band I'd see them play all the time and it would drive me crazy to see them get so nervous because they're my friends. I've only played one show with them so far, but I was so completely nervous I almost shit myself," Ben adds.
"Even when we were recording in a studio it was hard because we're so used to recording in our bedrooms; they'd say 'Can you sing louder?' and we'd say 'No,'" Jenn explains.
Carissa's Wierd plan for their next record to be more sonically diverse, in terms of the arrangements. And they hope to find a booking agent and tour the country. If they can just get over the stage fright and learn to spell, the world is their goddamn oyster.
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