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Sound and color

Pocket Vinyl render piano rock and visual art in one swirling canvas

The 1970’s rock icons Foreigner arrive in town to rock with local voices. Photo credit: Facebook

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Years ago, in the long-defunct Stereo Lounge (the space of which is now occupied by the Zodiac Supper Club), I saw Jeffrey Lewis perform. The tiny, intimate, boozy venue was the perfect place to see Lewis perform his offbeat anti-folk, accompanied by illustrations that he would flip through on an easel. Sometimes the drawings would be directly connected to the songs he was singing, but sometimes they'd just be visual accompaniment that helped to offset the static nature of a guy onstage with an acoustic guitar. Lewis was, and is, a comic book artist, and so it made sense for him to liven up his performance with a lo-fi version of a light show, each medium playing off the other in amusing and affecting ways.

Pocket Vinyl operate under a similar mode, although their combining of audio and visual is inherently more haphazard and off-the-cuff. The duo, consisting of Eric Stevenson and Elizabeth Jancewicz, hail from New London, Connecticut, and distinguish themselves by providing piano pop with live painting. Stevenson provides the music, while Jancewicz paints a masterpiece; at the end of the night, whatever painting Jancewicz has completed gets auctioned off to the highest bidder, which is as fantastic a hook and funding model as I've ever heard. The paintings, though done on the fly, are remarkably cool and fleshed-out, mostly coming across like a blown-up version of a storybook illustration, all bold colors and evocative, elemental themes.

The music itself is inherently sparse, as Stevenson alone mans the piano and vocals. On their fourth LP, Tin, Stevenson gets occasional accompaniment in the form of horns and guitar, but Pocket Vinyl exists largely as a vehicle for Stevenson's music and Jancewicz's art. Some songs, like "Crest," with its downbeat jaunt, sound perfectly suited to soundtracking the storybook visuals that Jancewicz gravitates toward. There is a steady aim toward solitude that marks much of Tin, which helps to draw parallels to Pocket Vinyl's self-professed influences in Radiohead (particularly their recent A Moon Shaped Pool), Sufjan Stevens, and Badly Drawn Boy. Their previous full-length, Death Anxiety, is predictably preoccupied with mortality, but they rise above the potentially oppressive qualities that subject matter can portend.

While their more raucous side is still alive and well, Pocket Vinyl seem to be moving into more of a meditative place, if Tin is to be trusted. "Cure" asks the question of whether a cure for death is desirable, even if it were possible - whether or not living on with your consciousness existing forever in the form of a hard drive (which some people predict about humanity reaching the singularity), or whether it's better to roll the dice on the possibility of an afterlife. This can be heavy stuff, to be sure, but Pocket Vinyl seem more interested in asking these questions in light of a perpetually curious mind, searching for answers while never really expecting any.

Stevenson's restrained croon is the perfect companion for his expressive piano-playing, which in turn complements Jancewicz's painting. It's a lovely little biosphere, creating a tender feedback loop where two people with a ton of clearly felt affection for each other can collaborate in as immediate and spontaneous a way as possible. I've seen live painting and music combined in concerts before, and while it's always a treat to watch, Pocket Vinyl feel like the first act I've encountered that seem to be bolstered by the gimmick, giving it new life and a renewed purpose. This is art and music rendered in their most basic, visceral way, swirling together in a canvas where there are no edges, only sound and color.

Pocket Vinyl, w/ the Loud Potions, Le Grotto, July 14, 10 p.m., Cover TBA, Le Voyeur, 404 E. 4th Ave., Olympia, 360.943.5710

Pocket Vinyl, July 15, 8 p.m., Cover TBA, Odd Otter Brewing, 716 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.209.7064

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