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Perpetual nervousness

Denver trio Fake Awake balance complexity and approachability

Fake Awake is playful and menacing progressive rock. Photo credit: Facebook

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When it comes to progressive rock, I've never had the ability that my dad does, to be able to let tricky time-signatures, disorienting tempos, and almost aggressively grandiose scopes simply wash over me. The same music that relaxes him, and many other prog-rock aficionados, has a tendency to rattle my nerves. Whether or not bands like Gentle Giant, King Crimson, and Camel had set out to affect the listener in such a way - to put the listener back on their heels with restless compositions that sought the outskirts of a band's ability to perform them - I've frequently found myself tensing my shoulders listening to some prog-rock, never sure of the next time a song will elect to trip me up.

As time has gone on, progressive rock tendencies have been folded into other genres, with indie rock musicians incorporating more complexities into songs that might otherwise be relatively straightforward. It's in this peace summit, between progressive inscrutability and pop sensibility, that I get drawn in. Groups as disparate as St. Vincent, Tune-Yards, Wild Beasts, Twin Steps, and Parenthetical Girls have all settled into grooves where they're able to explore big ideas and idiosyncratic sounds without sacrificing innate fascination and enriching hooks that keep the listener invested, even during the more challenging moments.

Hailing from Denver, Fake Awake is an experimental indie rock trio that revels in angularity, drawing influence from ‘90s alt-rock, ‘80s post-punk, and some of the current trend of slacker math-rock. This is a band whose baseline is jittery, and every respite from or exacerbation of that jitteriness is the spectrum in which Fake Awake lives. Made up of Houston Zemanski, Joshua Keith, and Neil Soule, Fake Awake is a band that careens between playfulness and menace, sometimes sounding - in tone, rather than word - like a more stripped-down Frank Zappa. On songs like "Call Me Jr.", a laid-back opening contends with a steadily increasing harshness and a slippery guitar line, like a more punk-indebted Ween; whimsy gives way to an affront of corrosive guitars.

The Feelies sung of a boy with "perpetual nervousness," while Fake Awake talk about "nervous beings" in "Safe Answer." Like many of Fake Awake's songs, "Safe Answer" deals, lyrically, with the small details of a life uncomfortably felt, with shout-outs to Mountain Dew and Little Richard, while it musically adheres to the loud-quiet-loud aesthetic that Pixies pioneered and Modest Mouse later disseminated. Like those bands, the vocals of Fake Awake hold on to their bearings for as long as it takes for the music becomes overwhelming, and the singer's yelping and snarling to set in. Unlike the Feelies, Pixies, and Modest Mouse, Zemanski's vocals at play in Fake Awake seem to be adrift in a sea of violent, churning instrumentation, instigating a fight-or-flight performance of man versus a musical onslaught.

Bassist Soule takes vocal lead in "Channels," which makes good use of a warbly guitar as it shifts from a plodding opening section to a nimbly middle and a roaring conclusion. Along the way, Fake Awake dips and dives, as they do in most of their songs, lending unpredictability and a sense of danger to the proceedings. Their self-titled mini-LP doesn't seek to alienate, but to coax the listener over to their side. This is guitar-heavy indie rock that uses every bit of its limitation as an asset; while Fake Awake may be a trio, their music sounds simultaneously full and reflective of their minimalist setup. Instead of a mind-expanding trip through the full capacity of a progressive band, what you find is three Denver weirdos inviting you to match them, beat for beat, in journeying outside the city limits of affable indie rock.

Fake Awake, w/ Le Grotto, Molten Salt, Holy Tentacles, 9 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 8,  $5, Obsidian Cafe, 414 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.890.4425, obsidianolympia.com

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