MusicfestNW 2013 began for me like every other MusicfestNW experience. I consistently respect the festival's curatorial efforts, which always yield at least a handful of acts I am excited about, and an even larger smattering that I don't exactly care for but greatly approve of from an objective standpoint. This year, however, I decided to take it preeeeeetty easy, both because I've seen many of the bands in the recent past and because I wanted to save myself for the rest of the September festival whirlwind (Decibel Festival and TBA Festival are still on the horizon). The positive news to report is that I saw no filler acts at this year's MusicfestNW. Every act I saw was fantastic... but here are my top three.

Royal Canoe

It seems that every other year, I find an indie pop band that I instantly fall in love with. I need not hear an entire record to know these folks resonate with me; I need only the first track to sense familiarity. In 2009, that band was Nurses; in 2011, it was Gardens & Villa. 2013's candidate for "band I'm going to pimp out to all my friends" is Royal Canoe. The six-piece Winnipeg-based band traveled across the country to play an opening MusicfestNW slot for !!!, and despite the fact that very few people in the crowd seemed to know who they were, Royal Canoe were instant crowd-pleasers and dance-insinuators. They rolled through tracks almost exclusively from their recent LP, Today We're Believers, with one exception: the ridiculously sex-groovy "Summersweat" from their 2012 EP. Twas a set full of falsettos balanced by deep mutated vocal effects, and topped off by -- not one, but four -- vocalists harmonizing or shouting gang vocals as necessary. Also notable were the double drummers, one of which triggered numerous sounds on an electronic drum pad, and a series of sick ass synths that sprang awesome leads like unstoppable leaks. Royal Canoe are the first indie pop band I've seen in a while who truly seem like they are doing something irreplaceable. Their set is something wholly and bizarrely themselves, and unparalleled. As if in response to my bitching just the day before about the fact that live shows rarely wow me anymore, in Royal Canoe swooped, to uphold my high expectations for them. I'm only sad that even with all my proselytizing, I failed to rouse up much interest from my friends, who were busy with other MusicfestNW events. They missed out. Learn more about Royal Canoe in my interview with them.
Demon Queen Exorcise Tape Rad Cult (2013) Exorcise Tape is a soundtrack to an ectoplasmic burlesque in the 6th rung, born of a bad break-up, graffiti, and a strip club on 29th street in Tucson. Zackey Force Funk, of the hip-hop collective Machina Muerte, delivers smooth falsetto-sleaze over Tobacco's neon synths and old school beats. Demon Queen have mastered the inverted cross aesthetic and the voice of a billion Tumblrs, layering Satanic imagery over plastic '80s funk.

Tobacco

Black Moth Super Rainbow frontman and solo musician Tobacco is on duty for synth wizardry and production.

Zackey Force Funk

Rocking falsetto hard is this Tuscon-based member of the Machina Muerte hip-hop collective.

 

Black Moth Super Rainbow make music for maniacs; misfits that don't fit in anywhere but a Black Moth Super Rainbow show. The combination of lo-fi, surreal visuals with muscular funk rhythms and a battery of cosmic sci-fi synths transport listeners to a grainy interzone of abandoned playgrounds, rolling cemeteries, and haunted shopping malls. The music of Tobacco (vocals/vocoder), Seven Fields of Aphelion (synth), Iffernaut (drums), Ryan Graveface (guitar), and Pony Diver (bass) is both nostalgic, romantic & playful, while maintaining an air of menace and danger.
In an insert that came with the album Dandelion Gum, there was talk of "vocoders humming amongst the flowers and synths bubbling under the leaf-strewn ground while flutes whistle in the wind and beats bounce to the soft drizzle of a warm acid rain". This sure sounds like technopagan nature worship, but then you have track names like "I Think I'm Evil" and "Psychic Love Damage", and you're just not sure what to think anymore. In a recent interview with Paste Magazine, Tobacco (real name: Tom Fec) spoke of the apparent contradiction:
"This is not a hippie band. It was never meant to be. I've always felt like, whether you can hear it in my music or not — and I'm sure you couldn't — almost like a punk asshole. People thought I was this gentle weed-smoking kid tripping out in a field somewhere. I think I'm more of like a dickhead prankster."
He then went on to describe backlash he received for the Sun Lips video from irate fans because the video "wasn't psychedelic".
"[All those expectations on what I'm supposed to like] are part of what I call the Black Moth box. You create this thing that's outside of the box, right? And the second you do that, people build a box for it. And it becomes an even smaller box than any box you were trying to not be in. And I feel like that happened to Black Moth."

 

IN SHORT: "It's not your average Black Moth Super Rainbow Album."

 

In discussing early album reviews for Cobra Juicy, Black Moth Super Rainbow's de facto leader Tobacco called the album "the 1st bmsr I really got right." It's an interesting comment, especially for a band who pride themselves on the reckless nature of their sound and their presence on stage. And then there's the fact that Cobra Juicy simply wouldn't exist in its current state if it wasn't for crowd-funding the project on Kickstarter. Especially considering the latter, there are certainly extraneous expectations surrounding the long awaited release. See full album review

 

Jesus, is Tobacco killing it or what? This video is a hyperactive spazoid of sped-up film, reversed film, and all sorts of editing tricks alluding to mental health diseases and freakouts. Featuring Beck! Director, Cinematographer, Editor - Allen Cordell Starring James Petz Producer, Costumes - Laurie Isabella Location Scout, Production Coordinator - Temperance David Special...