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Post-punk polarity

Fuzzy Math mixes light and dark with exhilarating results

Olympia trio Fuzzy Math’s music is sometimes claustrophobic, but never forgets a compelling rhythm. Photo credit: Goodlight Photography

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One of my favorite indie rock bands of the late 2000s appealed to me through their stylish ransacking of foppish opulence and their studied desire to challenge listeners. This band is called Wild Beats, and their first album, Limbo, Panto, was upper-crust poshness rendered grotesque, aided in heavy part by vocalists Hayden Thorpe and Thomas Fleming's voices functioning as sardonic caricatures of the effete falsetto and smooth-as-glass baritone, respectively. Listen to more than a bar, though, and Thorpe's high range becomes ever more disheveled, reveling in decay and piercing dissonance.

Time marches on, though, and Wild Beasts soon found fame and favor through increasingly sophisticated music that drove headlong into electro-pop, sanding away the rougher edges that once drew me to them. Wild Beasts are now the band that delivers chilly, alluringly sexy songs that utilize Thorpe's once ferocious falsetto to access that elegance that had once seemed like something they'd intended to skewer.

Olympia trio Fuzzy Math shares some DNA with Wild Beasts, most notably through frontman Dominic Jenkins' tendency to access his high register. You'd be forgiven, though, if you put on Fuzzy Math's debut LP, Proof, and have Radiohead immediately come to mind. Opening track "Elephant" hits that dark, ruminative sweet spot that Radiohead so frequently returns to, before the guitars kick in and blasts the doors wide open. Here and elsewhere on the album, Fuzzy Math show off their precision as a band, as well as their desire to play with expectations, weaving in and out of post-punk touchstones.

The rest of Fuzzy Math is filled out by Cos Mo on bass and David Gies on drums, forming a compact unit of pointed musicianship that never seems to make a move without careful consideration. Peppered throughout the album are string parts provided by Olympia maestro Derek M. Johnson. These baroque flourishes help to allow some air into what threatens, at times, to be overly claustrophobic music. Even at their darkest, though, Fuzzy Math never forgets how important movement is, creating jittery, propulsive beats. Standout track "Identify" is led by an elastic, thrumming bass line that works its way into your musculature, and Jenkins' falsetto is never more sweetly polished.

There's a tug-of-war going on with Fuzzy Math -- a tension that arises from bouncing back and forth between their analog side and their digital side. This interplay is never more evident than in the one-two punch of "Dusty Boxes" and "Flying Saucers." Even the titles hint at this dichotomy, with the flesh-and-blood "Dusty Boxes" entering the fray as their most plainly rocking song, and the bubbling electronica of "Flying Saucers" breaking out as a hypnotic six minutes of a million layered voices and swirling synths and drums forming a delirious concoction of pure dance floor bliss. The sampled voice of an old-timey newsman running in the background of "Flying Saucers" almost explicitly calls to mind the tricks used by producers who were on the forefront of electronic music, bridging the gap between the physical and the ephemeral.

Ultimately, Fuzzy Math creates a product that rewards the commingling of light and dark, heavy and featherweight, visceral and cerebral, dance and self-reflection. Where Wild Beasts eventually abandoned their feral, aggressive early music in favor of refined atmospherics, Fuzzy Math proves that there's no need for these two elements not to coexist. What's more, these two ingredients nourish and enrich one another, casting a stark relief that packs a greater punch with every unexpected sound. If there's room in the middle, Fuzzy Math finds it, even as they enjoy taking drastic jaunts through the wilderness of post-punk polarity.

Fuzzy Math, w/ Meat Creature, Step Dads, Molten Salt, 7 p.m., Friday, Aug. 25, cover TBA, Mahayana Studio, 1613 Groves Ave. NW, Olympia, 360.464.8959

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