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Hypnotic fireworks

Iska Dhaaf bring fidgety atmospherics to indie rock

Seattle music mainstays form the nervous indie duo Iska Dhaaf. Photo credit: Emerald Gold

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Last year, Matt Berninger of the National and Brent Knopf of Menomena teamed up for an unlikely side project called El Vy. While the National's stately, mature indie rock might not seem like it would mix easily with Menomena's fractured experimentalism, the resultant product brought out new sides to each artist, while also propping up under-utilized aspects inherent in each of their primary bands: Berninger's preoccupations with sex and loneliness ended up enhanced by the more energized, funk-inflected influence of Knopf, resulting in an album that could've come off as a novelty, but instead emerged as a meeting of the minds more substantial than its piecemeal construction might've predicted.

El Vy (a name explained as being Berninger and Knopf's interpretation of the plural of Elvis) sounded like neither the National nor Menomena, but rather a strong and fertile middle-ground. Similarly, the combination of Seattle music mainstays Benjamin Verdoes and Nathan Quiroga doesn't seem, on its face, like it should work. Verdoes cuts his teeth in the indie, math-rock-leaning Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band, while Quiroga made his name in the gonzo hip-hop group of Mad Rad (where he went by the moniker of Buffalo Madonna). What they've created, though, complements both artists while forging something new together.

Brought together, Verdoes and Quiroga have made Iska Dhaaf, a band that doesn't seem too concerned with following one route or another when constructing their songs. Rather, it seems like Iska Dhaaf is content to lean into whatever musical tangent that feels worth following, creating an unpredictable band that seems capable of swerving at any moment. "Happiness," with its moody atmospherics and fidgety drums, sounds like Hail to the Thief-era Radiohead, while a song like "Everybody Knows" finds them in New Wave mode, with its nervous rhythms and surf-y guitars recalling the Feelies and the B-52s.

Iska Dhaaf's debut LP came out in 2014. With a new album apparently in the works, it's hard to say what direction they'll be headed in. Their most recent single, "Shut Up," was released last year, and it sounds more similar to something that Mad Rad would've released, with its bratty energy and blunt lyrics, but its unconventional melody keeps it firmly planted in spiky indie rock.

With both Verdoes and Quiroga's earlier bands being known for their energetic live performances (especially Quiroga, with Mad Rad's raucous live appearances notoriously getting them banned from just about every venue on Seattle's Capitol Hill), it's none too surprising that Iska Dhaaf really brings it when they take the stage. Verdoes mans the drums with one hand and a keyboard with his other, while also providing vocals, as Quiroga takes the role of the howling, guitar-attacking frontman. When performing a song like "General Malaise," with its dread-fueled lyrics and tension-building arrangement, Iska Dhaaf don't exactly compel one to the dance floor so much as they get the blood electrified and moving in your veins.

Though both Verdoes and Quiroga were known as Seattle artists, they've since relocated to Brooklyn, which makes their return to the West Coast more of a pressing concern. Iska Dhaaf's performance in Tacoma may just be your last chance for a good long while to catch their propulsive indie rock - meshing, as it does, the nocturnal madness of songs like "Moonless Night" and the swooning textures of "Same Indifference," with lightning strikes of stuttering beats and guitar stabs folded into the rest. Listening to Iska Dhaaf can inspire images of paper lanterns being tossed into a bonfire filled with fireworks: the mood is always at risk of being swallowed by the surrounding danger. It's this juxtaposition that lends Iska Dhaaf their hypnotic draw.

THE HEWITT, All Ages, w/ Coma Figura, Generifus, Friday, Feb. 5, 7 p.m., $10, 700 Court A, Tacoma, brownpapertickets.com

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