Band of Brother

Stres pours pain into his music, and gets love in return.

Josh Bolof won't sit down. He talks in long run-on sentences. His muted clothing offsets his sharp corners, free-spirited teeth, and well-groomed hair. His brand of hip-hop is somber and strangely soothing; given the nervous energy he exhibits in person, you get the feeling it's his musical therapy. Standing in a quiet corner of Cal Anderson Park, he seems genuinely happy—a sharp contrast, he says, from the time he spent writing and recording his debut album, AlgoRhythms, which he self-released last September.

It's been three years since the death of his older brother Daniel. A part-time local MC who rapped under the name Nino No Dapz, Daniel was gunned down outside a North Seattle hotel in an apparent money hand-off gone bad in August 2009.

"If he was alive now, he'd probably be [finding success like] most of the [local] hip-hop people are doing right now," he says. "I guess it makes me kind of bitter in a way, because I feel like if he would have gotten obsessed with music, that probably would have saved his life."

Bolof's family fled from Romania to the U.S. during their native country's 1989 revolution. Bolof and his twin brother, Jesse, are the first members of their family to be born here. Rap music's tales of struggle struck a chord with the young Bolof, and it became a vital part of his—and his brother's—socialization.

"We never really had anything—and still don't, really," he says. "The thing that we identified with about hip-hop is the themes. I listened to [Nas'] Illmatic, and I don't have to be from Queensbridge to be like, 'Oh yeah, sometimes shit is fucked up, and sometimes life is "parallel to hell." You "must maintain." ' "

But things have been looking up for Bolof these days. He regularly plays cool happenings around town at places like Vermillion Art Gallery (this Thursday), the Comet, and Black Lodge, and is scheduled to record an EP later this fall with one of Seattle's foremost innovators of sound, producer/engineer Erik Blood (Shabazz Palaces, THEESatisfaction, Crypts). This comes after years of kicking around indie-rock outfits as a guitarist/songwriter, then reinventing himself under the stage name Stres, the multifaceted electronic artist/beat-head.

His emergence as Stres in AlgoRhythms was a defining moment both artistically and personally. Though the album's reception was quiet, it's musically accomplished, and serves as a symbolic last note to a grim chapter of his life. The open echo on the recording and the repetitive exploration of melody on each track gives the impression of solitary rumination, a coming-to-grips with life and death.

Blood, Bolof's new studio sensei, says that his new material has plenty of darkness, but that "There's a nice weight to it . . . a dark simplicity to it that I find arresting. His melodies are effectively minimal."

Though Bolof's music is mainly instrumental, it conveys an audible angst, although he says the new EP, entitled Old Lives (which he estimates will be available early next year), comes from a slightly lighter place. "I'm definitely in a better place then when I wrote AlgoRhythms," he says. "But I feel every Stres song is going to be slightly melancholic anyway. It just comes naturally."

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