Beats, wires, menacing synths, progressive haircuts, and sociopolitical agendas--it's hard to swing an RCA cable these days without hitting another expertly coiffed practitioner of the chic electronic performance subgenre. But honestly, sometimes I just don't need a punk rock aesthetic with my dance music. Sometimes I just want to listen to Erasure's The Innocents. Enter the Badger King--streamlined conceptual dance music without all that lofty attitude-damaged baggage.
Armed with a wireless microphone, a glowing iBook, and lungs strong enough to burst a hot water bottle, Portland's irresistible (and, might I add, completely adorable) "conceptual electronic art-pop" duo weave an engaging mesh of aerobic vigor with the fervor of hands-raised religious deliverance. With the help of programmer/keyboardist/boyfriend Jona Bechtolt (Little Wings, Wolf Colonel), vocalist/songwriter Marianna Ritchey (formerly of Dear Nora) maps intricate fairy tales of the absurd; eels, plants, bears, space oxen, crabs, brain monsters, and showering dragons coexist in relative harmony in Ritchey's elaborate allegories, which are belted like Baptist sermons through music-theory-major vocal melodies. In performance, TBK is bombastic, exploding with a drama-heavy passion that simultaneously channels Andy Bell and Richard Simmons ("an art-pop-dance-exercise sort of thing," says Ritchey) through the singer's tiny body, with surprisingly effective results.
This week's Vera Project performance unites the Badger King with a pedigree of surprisingly agenda-free, electro-structured performances. Owen Ashworth's bittersweet one-man operation, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, arrived in Seattle via special delivery from Portland early this past month, accompanied by a fumbled pile of swap-meet keyboards and hissing amplifiers, and some of the most endearing pop songs you're likely to hear radiating from this cold, cold city. Also new to town is the twinkling, operatic dance-pop of Anna Oxygen, the sci-fi-fixated former frontwoman of Olympia's sorely missed Space Ballerinas; she shares the bill with Bobby Birdman and the stuttered R&B orgasm that is Portland's Panther.
Packed together, let's call this lineup the electro-alternative: an evening of performance-based synth-pop without all the goddamn posturing.