Throwaway Style: Naked Giants Make Emotional Stress Sound Thrilling on SLUFF

Throwaway Style, Local Music
Martin Douglas
photo by Chloe Corriveau

Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, every Thursday on the KEXP Blog.

For all the freewheeling, riotously fun performances they’ve been known for dating back to U-District house shows and their breakthrough stage turn as the runners-up of Sound Off! 2015, Naked Giants -- as do most young folks walking the tightrope that is their early twenties -- sure do have a lot of hangups.

This is by no means a demerit against them; in fact, their songwriting provides a weighty counterpoint to the endlessly enjoyable calamity of their music. Though Naked Giants are greatly benefited by the energy and vitality of youth, many of their songs detail the anxiety which comes with spending too much time in their own heads or considering the amount of time other people spend in theirs.

SLUFF is closed out by “Shredded Again” is a bouncy acoustic tune augmented by the light touch of mellotron, lyrically traversing the duality of pain, living outside of the gender binary, depression, and deceased mothers answering emails. The phrase, “I feel like a taciturn sunburn” is sung in such a conversational tone it implies the anxiety is a familiar feeling.

Musically, Naked Giants are steered by a fun sense of urgency, like sneaking into a middle school classroom and trashing it in the small moments before the custodian comes around. “Everybody Thinks They Know (But No One Really Knows),” with its indelible blend of surf and pop-punk, of chiming guitars and jaunty handclaps, changes from actively paranoid over an unnamed brainwasher to the numb complacency of being brainwashed. The lion’s share of the record’s twelve tracks are very good at pointing out debilitating emotions stirring inside but aren’t sure exactly what to do with them.

The two-part “Goldfish” expounds on the image of dreams and the feeling of devotion while colored with the band’s increasingly signature anxiety, the first part a nearly hallucinogenic ballad and the second filling the air with Gianni Aiello’s fuzzy bass and clanging six-string work from Grant Mullen. (Mullen's guitar work all over the record is something to behold, full of skittering, spindly solos and catchy licks which burrow into unexpected places.) Steve Fisk’s immense production prowess on SLUFF is highlighted by his nearly peerless ability to capture the intensity of the performance regardless of what band he works with, though it helps that the music of Naked Giants leaves a trail of smoke with the smell of burnt electrical cords and bubblegum behind them.

Opening salvo “Dead/Alien,” alternates between a stomp and a sprint courtesy of Henry Lavallee's spirited, proficient drum work, blaring guitars and voices sweetly harmonizing one second and on the verge of mania the next. A slight hint of distortion rings during the first verse of the title track, a 90’s alt-rock radio romp heavily glossed with heartbreak underneath the sludgy bass and skyward chorus. There is something virtuosic about the way the band plays with tempo.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on the six-and-a-half-minute “TV,” where the trio run through a number of different speeds with skillful grace; nimble guitar work shooting sparks over a sure-handed (and sure-footed) rhythm section, giving solid credence to the band’s favorable comparisons to California garage-punk demigods Thee Oh Sees. And like John Dwyer and company, many of their songs exist as a foot race from start to finish, but not in a way that feels rushed. The mania is always deeply controlled.

Tucked away just after the ⅓ mark of the album, the band coasts into an arresting ballad which might be the album's highlight, the bluesy “Slow Dance II,” where Mullen’s heartbreak sends his voice to its highest octave and the band builds to a spectacular climax featuring an astoundingly emotional guitar solo. At the end, the song almost exhaustedly rolls to its close, and after the energy (both physical and emotional) exerted in its five minutes, it’s a suitable structural cue. It’s one of those instances where the band creates something deeply affecting without sacrificing their sense of levity, and proof that SLUFF as a whole is a study in how to make the depths and shadows of what’s going on inside a person sound like they’re still having the time of their lives.

SLUFF is out tomorrow, Friday, March 30th via New West Records. Tonight, they play an album release show at Chop Suey with The Fabulous Downey Brothers and The Black Tones. Tomorrow, they play a FREE, All Ages in-store at Easy Street Records in West Seattle.

New and News

MoPop, Art Corps, and Macklemore + Ryan Lewis Present The Residency

The Residency is a four-week program established to help aspiring hip-hop artists between the age of 16 and 19 hone their craft in songwriting, performance, and beatmaking. Those who are selected will get to record an EP of original material in a professional studio and perform at Sky Church. Qualification requirements, more information, and an opportunity to apply for The Residency can be found here.

Live and Loud: This Week's Recommended Shows

March 29: Treepeople, the Purdins, and Toy Zoo at the Crocodile

March 29: Beth Ditto, SSION, and Connie & the Precious Moments at the Showbox

March 30: Spesh, Dyed, and Rilla at Central Saloon

March 31: Bread & Butter, Autogramm, and Head Band at Clock-Out Lounge

April 1: Russian Circles and King Woman at the Crocodile

April 3: Delias, Supercrush, Seattles New Gods, and ACE at Victory Lounge

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