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Listen to a sample of Battle Hymns' "Telegrams No One."
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Listen to Levi Fuller 's "If You Didn't Laugh You'd Cry."
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Honestly, I can't say enough good things about the Lights. Diamonds and Dirt, their most recent release, has remained in heavy rotation since it dropped on my desk in 2006, and their live performances have never failed to make the hairs on the back of my head stand up—even when they are playing "Setting Sun," a song I've probably heard several hundred times. Frontman Craig Chambers' dry, clipped delivery recalls Mark E. Smith at times, but with a merciful absence of self-absorbed indecipherability, and the rhythm section of Jeff Albertson and PJ Rogalski is one of the tightest and most creative in town. If you love Television as much as the Minutemen, then this is the show for you. HANNAH LEVIN
Any band that covers Billy Joe Shaver's (by way of Waylon Jennings') "Ride Me Down Easy" is OK in my book. The origins of the Maldives' entire sound can be found in the roots music of the '70s, the decade in which, I would argue, the genre hit its peak. And unlike My Morning Jacket or Son Volt, they don't mess much with the template. It's all open-highway acoustic strumming, dry-desert pedal-steel guitar, barroom piano, and lyrics smeared by teardrops. But this back-to-basics approach has served them well. People never tire of empty bottles, broken hearts, and old lovers they can't stop thinking about. BRIAN J. BARR
For about 10 years now, Jen Wood has been perfecting her music, a blend of folk and indie rock with a touch of trip-hop. She has a crystal voice and a delicate approach to guitar. All of this results in one of the most soothing singer-songwriter acts we have in Seattle, one that can set you daydreaming while lowering your blood pressure. She has collaborated with the Black Heart Procession and Joan of Arc, was a member of former Barsuk band Aveo, and has sung harmony for electro-pop smash success the Postal Service. BRIAN J. BARR
If there's anyone in Seattle who embodies the broken spirit and voice of folk legend Nick Drake's final year, it is singer-songwriter J. Tillman. On the surface, Tillman sounds rather reserved, sad, and soft-spoken, but if you listen a little harder, the despairingly gorgeous and stark songs open up to some heartrending confessionals of mistakes, triumphs, and the desire for constant change and movement. It's hard to say how long he's been playing and writing songs, but with a few solid releases already under his belt, Tillman should be perched alongside the unsung heroes who came before him. TRAVIS RITTER
It's almost tragic how fateful, unforeseen circumstances have lead to a series of pitfalls and hurdles for Battle Hymns and their frontman, Cameron Elliott.
Following months of name changes (they were formerly known as the Western States) and a cast of revolving drummers that created an on-again-off-again vacancy, Elliott and bassist Jack Peters finalized and perfected Battle Hymn's lineup with Michael Lerner, a polished drummer who also plays with Toy Gun and Night-Life.
When Battle Hymns played one of their first shows after many months' absence, they had just finished putting together most of the pieces of Hidden Reservations, their forthcoming full-length. I noted in my preview blurb of that show that the music on Hidden Reservations "lays into the dark side of the rocky heartland with dour anthems, noisy refrains, and a somewhat hopeful resolve," and that Elliott's voice, a nasally pinch of Bill Callahan meets John Darnielle, is "steeped in helpless protest."
Following that show, Elliott severely injured his leg, leaving him bedridden and unable to practice with his promising lineup. I couldn't hear it then, but now, the pain he endured (emergency surgery? Ouch!) makes the songs feel all the more real. Not only should it be inspiring to see Elliott onstage with his war wound, leading Battle Hymns through the trenches after more than a month of confinement. It should also be inspiring to watch him move on from this and receive blessings from someone, somewhere, who can finally put an end to all these bad things that have been happening to such a great band. TRAVIS RITTER
You gotta love a band that eschews all pretense and just rocks out. The Knast are pure power-pop in a Kinks, Cheap Trick, Scott McCaughey kind of way. They play it hard and fast, but not so much that it buries the hooks, of which there are plenty. For all the poppiness, however, they maintain a punk edge that borders on Clash territory. Matter of fact, lead singer A.J. sings in a huffy-puffy style similar to Joe Strummer's. BRIAN J. BARR
Levi Fuller once made an album called This Murder Is a Peaceful Gathering. It was all about crows. Yes, those beautiful, black-winged creatures that have yet to be recognized as the geniuses they are. In a way, crows could be a metaphor for Fuller himself. The sandy-haired strummer has a number of homespun albums, side projects, and zines to his name, all of which are showcases for his wildly imaginative mind. He plays post-rock-influenced folk and is fully entrenched in Seattle's DIY community (he hosts a biweekly show on www.hollowearthradio.com). Even though Seattle hasn't recognized his genius yet, Fuller seems content to quietly craft his work in private until it does. BRIAN J. BARR