The rise of electronica as the biggest draw for Seattle’s self-described "musical elite" over the last few years is, in a way, a blessing and a curse. Dime-a-dozen DJs that play generic, minimalist, and altogether vapid House music seem to dominate Seattle’s hipper establishments, and as a result, less attention is paid to the rock scene that once defined the city. But at the same time, with less overly-ambitious rock bands clamoring to be the city’s Next Big Thing, this seachange has granted a degree of levity to the rock scene; it’s no longer about being the biggest name, or the most fashionable. Instead, those who remain are simply playing for the love of playing.
That idea is touched on in Blackheart Honeymoon’s latest EP, “Nothing and Everything Else,” a band that celebrates their disinterest in attaining the same sort of trendy acclaim among the Capitol Hill crowd in favor of a somewhat more heartfelt and honest approach to music making. In fact, in the album’s second track “Clean Radiation,” vocalist Ian Prebo sums up this attitude succinctly: “I ain’t never been hip/it’s something I just can’t do/Don’t care if you love me or think I’m cool/I just want to say something true.”
In lieu of chasing after a particular trend, this staple of the Seattle late-night bar scene returns to the period of alt-country from about a decade ago, alternating between an earthier version of Wilco and something slightly more boisterous and creative. Prebo’s vocals match the tone of the genre almost perfectly, and are equally adept at breathy love ballads like in the album’s opener “I'm a Liar (And I Love You),” or when he occasionally lets loose and turns them up to eleven, like in the chorus of “If I Fall.”
The album’s penultimate track, “We All Fall Down (Sometimes),” exemplifies the emotional range that the band is capable of, with Steve Andrea’s distorted and delayed electric guitar riffs accenting Prebo’s subtle acoustic strumming and Dusty Hayes's soft, unimposing drum rhythms. It all perfectly coalesces into what is arguably the best track on the album: a sweeping, emotional climax from the slow, mellow build-up of the rest of the EP.
But despite the familiar sound that Blackheart Honeymoon provides for anyone familiar with the alt-country scene of the early 2000’s, the band still manages to experiment in ways that push the boundaries of what you’d expect from an alt-country/folk band. “Scars Remain” sounds like a blend between Menos el Oso-era Minus the Bear and Modest Mouse, while the appropriately titled album closer, “Last Song,” is an altogether different story. In an experimental foray that makes the use of a number station Wilco’s "Poor Places" seem bland, the lo-fi track mixes Prebo’s vocals over a heartfelt voice mail from his girlfriend. The emotionally charged result is an unorthodox but touching love song that manages to stand out from the crowd without trying to do so.
All in all, “Nothing and Everything Else” shows that there is still life in the alt-country genre without bands having to resort to overly-complicated gimmicks, or, god forbid, mandolins. It remembers that emotion is at the heart of good music making, and not a slavish devotion to doing something completely off-kilter. It may not make Blackheart Honeymoon particularly popular among the aforementioned hipster elite in Seattle, but that may be the best thing about them.